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Google Alerts: Fascinating and Maddening

August 1, 2011Patrick NunnallyUncategorizedComments Off on Google Alerts: Fascinating and Maddening

So I’ve written recently about blogs I follow, and I thought I’d continue the “how we do it” series with a discussion of Google Alerts.  For those of you new to this game of learning as much from the internet as possible, a Google Alert allows you to ask the elves at Google to send you an email any time their crawl finds a web site with your requested word or phrase in it.  For quite some time, I’ve had an alert for “Mississippi River,” which notifies me of fishing tournaments, tragic accidents, travel stories, in addition to the policy and science I’m looking for.  I recently set one up for “river flooding” also.

Of course you don’t have to use this tool just for work related matters, but I’d suggest that if you’re on a company computer you should be careful about the kinds of “hobby” searches you sign up for!

Well, anyway, here is a very brief sampling of the material I’ve gotten in the past few days from my river and flood alerts.

Some of the river flooding stories, such as this brief item from an Illinois television station are quite local.  Others are longer, continuing coverage of an issue that has been months in the making.  For example, the Yankton (SD) Press and Dakotan covers a recent announcement on the Corps of Engineers ongoing response to the flooding Missouri River with detail and context.  A good, informative piece.

As for the Mississippi River, a story from the Quad Cities (Moline and Rock Island, IL and Bettendorf and Davenport, IA) shows that last week’s epic rains in Dubuque (over 14 inches in one 24-hour period, and 3 more inches the day  after that) is in fact leading to sporadic flooding downstream.  But we can also learn about other kinds of cool stuff, such as Winona author Pamela Eyden’s revised edition of a book on Mississippi River towboats.

And so it goes, the stream of information from, literally, all over the world.

OK, maybe you can see why this is fascinating, but why is it maddening, as I suggested in the title?  There’s always something going on, and sometimes there is a LOT going on.  Separating wheat from chaff can be difficult, and it is sometimes very hard to determine what issue or story has long term value and what has simply been repeated a lot on a slow news day.

In short, it’s a lot like the internet itself:  broad and wide, but with depth that varies greatly.

So why do I do it?  Hmmmm…better think on that and write another post soon.


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