It can be hard to find just what you want in the 24-hour news cycle that constantly churns content out online.
One way is by setting up computer-generated alerts. These are relatively simple to use and offer a range of services, from a heads-up when your name is mentioned online to messages about a product's price suddenly dropping.
For years, I've used Google Alerts as a way of keeping track of myself online.
If my name is mentioned in a blog or if this column appears on the Web, such as on the site of a newspaper that syndicates it, a Google Alert sends me an e-mail. Google Alerts can work for you to find a variety of things, such as telling you if a video of a favorite band popped up or that a blogger posted something about a recent episode of “Mad Men.”
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In about a month, Google will begin delivering these alerts to users via feeds, as well as e-mail. Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL are also players. And this week I tried two small companies that recently joined the mission.
Alerts.com and Yotify.com, both had worthwhile features. While Google Alerts does a good job of finding search terms in news, blogs and videos, Alerts.com and Yotify use forms that are a cinch to fill out and let you pinpoint your searches.
Alerts.com offers to notify users via e-mail, SMS text messages or even voice calls to a cellphone or landline. The site organizes your alerts on a personalized Web page and uses a desktop application called Elertz to tell you when an alert has generated results.
I liked this site's flexibility: It not only gave me different ways to receive notifications, but also enabled a variety of options for time-specific deliveries of alerts.
But Yotify has its own advantages, including the ability to integrate with FriendFeed and Facebook so friends can offer their recommendations or opinions. It also lets users search for event tickets or items auctioned on eBay.
For now, Google Alerts and Yotify will send notifications only via e-mail, though all three services will let you view alert results online.
Alerts.com offers plenty of simple alerts that require only a bit of scheduling to set up. Each alert appears as a widget that can be expanded, edited or deleted with a simple click, and this page has a clean look with attractive graphics.
I didn't care much for Elertz, the desktop component of Alerts.com, because it notified me of new Alerts data using an irksome star that glowed red until I checked my notifications. Elertz didn't work properly on my Windows XP machine until Alerts.com fixed a bug.
But Alerts.com's price watch and price protection alerts are incredibly useful. Price watch looks to see if an item's price drops into a lower price range, at which point users are notified. Price protection watches to see if products you bought are now on sale so you can get a refund. I tried both, and I'm hoping I'll hear soon that a specific pair of Anthropologie boots is on sale.