Tag Archives: alerts

Somebody, please put Google News out of its misery

I didn’t think Google News (http://news.google.co.uk/) could get any worse but I was wrong. The previous revamp was bad enough:?no more advanced search, useless and irrelevant personalisation options, and don’t even think about trying to set up sensible alerts. Alerts were never that good at the best of times but were not improved one iota by the changes. And then they altered the structure of the RSS feed URLs so that, supposedly, your existing feeds no longer worked. I don’t know why, but my old feeds are still delivering news and contain better quality information than the new ones I set up.?Google News

In the latest incarnation, Google News has lost most of my topics,? the “For You” is total rubbish as is “Local”, you can no longer manage and personalise the topics? (although that didn’t really work anyway), and the RSS feed buttons have gone.?I can only assume that this is? all down to the real time AI/ML that Google recently announced was going to be used to organize the news. (The new Google News: AI meets human intelligence ).

Existing RSS feeds still work, though and you can create email alerts for a news search if you run it from within the general Google results page. Run your search in “All” and then click on the News link. There is a Create Alert button at the bottom of your results, but one wonders how long that will last.

Someone should put Google News out of its misery, close it down and leave news searchable via the link on the main page.

And they may as well ditch Google Finance as well. That is a? shadow of its former self?: no more portfolios for monitoring stocks, no more historical data for viewing and download, no more news annotations on the price charts, and the comparison option only works for two stocks at a time. If you are interested in monitoring the stock markets or researching individual companies for free get thee hence to Yahoo! Finance (https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/).?? There was some doubt over the future of Yahoo! Finance when Yahoo! was acquired by Verizon and became part of Oath but, charting oddities aside, there does seem to be some development going on. The new “Sustainability” tab for example shows environment, social and governance (ESG) ratings from Sustainalytics (https://www.sustainalytics.com/).? There was positive feedback on it from some business librarians who attended one of my recent workshops.

So many of Google’s services are going from bad to worse to totally pointless and unusable. No wonder, then, that people are starting to look seriously at alternative resources.

Has Google dumped RSS alerts or not?

Google closed down its RSS Reader on July 1st and shortly afterwards stories that it had also discontinued RSS alerts started to circulate. The first one I saw was by Google Operating System?(Google Alerts Drops RSS Feeds? http://googlesystem.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/google-alerts-drops-rss-feeds.html) quickly followed by Search Engine Land (Google Alerts Drops RSS Delivery Option http://searchengineland.com/google-alerts-drops-rss-delivery-option-165709). Both reported that when they went to manage their RSS alerts Google told them that they would have to convert all of their feeds to email alerts. From this it was assumed that Google had decided to abandon RSS altogether, which confused me because I was still receiving RSS feeds for alerts I had set up in News and Blogs. It transpires that Google no longer offers alerts for web searches. That is no great loss to me as I have always found the web alerts to be unreliable. News and blog search alerts are a different matter, though, as I usually have about 70-80 running at any one time. I could set up a separate email account for the alerts but I find it so much easier to organise and view them in an RSS reader.

Two weeks later and my feeds continue to come through. I can still set up new alerts for Blog searches by running the search and then clicking on the RSS link at the bottom of the page.

Blogs_RSS_Google

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that they have not yet removed the link inviting you to subscribe to the feed in Google Reader!

The procedure for a News RSS alert is more long winded and you need a Google account to set it up. First sign in to your account and go to Google News. In the upper right hand area of the screen there is a cog wheel. Click on the wheel and a set of personalization options should appear underneath it.

Thorium_News_Google_Alerts

In addition to the standard categories that you can add or remove there is a box into which you can type in your own “topic”. Click on the + button to add it to the list and save the personalization.?Your search topic should now appear in a list on the left hand side of the screen.

Thorium_News_Google_Alerts_2

Click on your topic and at the bottom of the results page you should see an RSS icon which takes you to the feed for that search.

So the good news is that Google blog and news alerts are still available as RSS feeds. The bad news is that they are complicated to set up in news, and the links and text on the blog search results page have not been updated to reflect the discontinuation of Google Reader. This strongly suggests that RSS is very low on Google’s list of priorities so it really could be axed across the board.

If Google does decide to “retire” RSS and you want to carry on receiving RSS rather than email alerts there are several alternatives. So far, the best of the free services for me is the Netvibes Dashboards (http://www.netvibes.com/), which uses a number of tools including Google. Even if I ignore the Google results, Netvibes generally comes up a comprehensive and relevant set of alerts on my topic. Overall, I would rather not have the hassle of setting up my alerts afresh but Google has a habit of finishing off services with little or no warning. Now is the time to start looking for replacements.

Earthquake Alerts

If you are looking for up to the minute news on earthquakes it would seem that Twitter beats the mainstream news media even when major shocks have occurred. Phil Bradley has carried out a comparison of the timeliness and quality of information about the Baja 7.2 earthquake provided by Sky News, CNN, ABC, Google News, BBC and Twitter (Phil Bradley’s weblog: Earthquake: Twitter trounces traditional news sources again! http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2010/04/earthquake-twitter-trounces-traditional-news-sources-again.html). Not surprisingly Twitter came out on top in terms of speed of reporting but what is amazing is that some people actually tweet while the earthquake is happening. Fine if you are in open countryside but if I was in a built up area I’d be more worried about falling buildings: but then if you are strolling through fields and mountains there is always the possibility that the ground will open up and swallow you. Now that would be worth tweeting about!

If you want up to the minute scientific data on earthquakes, the USGS (US Geological Survey) has a page with a map showing recent tremors and links to RSS feeds giving you date, time, location and magnitude (Earthquakes
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/). They also provide the data as CSV files, an iGoogle gadget and KML feeds for Google Earth.

Google Earth and USGS KML feeds

Google Earth and USGS KML feeds

I have friends and colleagues who live in earthquake zones in New Zealand, China and Turkey. The first major shock is always reported by the press – eventually – as are some of the major aftershocks, but the best way for me to find out what is happening to them is a combination of Twitter and the USGS data. Follow the latter and you will quickly discover that earthquakes are happening somewhere on this planet all of time, most of them of low magnitude. You will also notice that after a major earthquake there are not dozens but hundreds of aftershocks, as I learned from my New Zealand friends. The traditional press have moved on to more interesting stories but the people in the affected region are having to deal with the consequences of not only the first major quake but also the continual aftershocks.

The RSS feeds are good way of keeping up with quake events but I only dip into my feed reader 3 or 4 times a day. Most of my online life is spent in my browser Firefox. Enter the eQuake Alert add-on for Firefox.(https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2239/) This uses USGS data and adds an alert to the status bar of Firefox showing you the magnitude and location of the latest event. Right click on the alert and you can choose to view a list of recent of quakes that also gives you date and time.

eQuake Alert

As an additional alert there is an option to “Shake browser on earthquake”. This makes your browser screen wobble when news of a quake comes through and you can set it to shake proportional to earthquake magnitude. No chance of missing it now! You can also set a minimum magnitude for alerts, which is useful if you the perpetual wobbling of the screen becomes too intrusive. Mine was originally set to 3 but for hours after the Baja earthquake aftershocks seemed to be occurring every other minute so I increased it to 4

When combined, the different services provide me with a clearer picture of what is going on and help me find out if friends and colleagues have been seriously affected. The Firefox eQuake add-on alerts me to events within a few minutes of their occurrence. The USGS RSS feeds show me what has been happening over the past 24 hours. Twitter provides immediate reports from people in the earthquake zone. Eventually the traditional news media will report and my Google News alerts will kick in. And finally, the USGS KML feeds for Google Earth provide an incredible visualisation of the extent and impact of a series of quakes in a region.

Google Reader tracks web page changes

So you are an RSS addict but your favourite news page does not have an RSS feed. There are plenty of tools that will monitor a web page and notify you of changes by email or RSS (see my list Monitoring Web Page Changes at http://www.shugle.com/sources/monitor.htm) but now Google Reader also has an option that will allow you to monitor changes to most web pages. All you need to do is log? in to Google and open Google Reader, click on Add a subscription, and then enter the URL of the page you want to monitor. That’s it.

I am testing it out on 3 web pages and comparing the results with Page2RSS and the desktop program Website Watcher. My comparison has only been running for 12 hours but already there are differences between Google Reader and Page2RSS. Google Reader is picking up more changes than Page2RSS, which is not surprising because Page2RSS checks a page just once a day and Google checks pages more frequently. But what I did not expect was that Google would miss a major change that Page2RSS picked up. Had I bothered to look at the web page when Google Reader had told me it had changed I would have spotted the new text that it had missed but the temptation is to just view the reported change in Google Reader. Website Watcher, though, has come up trumps every time and picked up all changes to the pages, probably because I told it to check the pages in question every 10 minutes.

The initial stages of my trial suggest that Google Reader is a good way to track changes to web pages as long as you only need to know if a web page has changed in some way and as long as you go to the live web page to view the changes. It seems that if a web page changes frequently throughout the day it will not pick up and report every single change. Google Reader checks pages at pre-determined time intervals but I expected it report on all of the changes since it’s last report. It doesn’t and that puzzles me.

If you really need to know about web page changes as soon as possible then a desktop tool such as Website Watcher is the bees knees. You can choose how often it checks the pages and you can also tell it look for specific keywords? – useful if you are waiting for a product launch announcement for example.? Website Watcher can also easily monitor whole directories of pages. It is not free – prices start at 29.95 euros? (see http://www.aignes.com/shop.htm for details) – but it gives you far more options and control than Google Reader.