Keeping Tabs on Your Good Name

By Beth Cox | Posted May 21, 2003
Sooner or later, I think every Net-using consumer or small business entrepreneur will have typed their own name or company into a search engine, as often as not Google, to see just what comes up.

That's how I found out about the Beth Cox in Tennessee whose husband was declared dead after his ransacked car was found back in the 1980s. He resurfaced several years ago, claiming amnesia. Pretty weird stuff, but it's not my life, luckily. Then there's the intriguing headline "Lipstick and Percocet" on a short story written by yet another Beth Cox who isn't me.

Turns out there are more people in this world with my name than I ever would have imagined.

I've done the same sort of searching with my business's name (I run an orchid company on the side) and I have done my share of worrying about getting noticed, just like many of you with small e-commerce sites.

And of course I've used Google to look up some of my business competitors, trying to find out what they're up to.

So I was interested to hear about the release of Google Alert v.2.0, an automated search app that lets you stay up to date with your interests by routinely performing daily Google searches and sending e-mail notifications of new results that appear, complete with the links.

The Google Alert Web site says the app is "a free service for non-commercial use only, subject to Google's API terms. Google Alert is not affiliated in any way with Google, but we like them a lot."

The developer is Gideon Greenspan in Israel. The Web site says he is a PhD student of "bioinformatics" at Israel's Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology.

"I am a heavy user and serious fan of Google, and often find myself performing the same search regularly to keep track of specific terms," Greenspan says on the site. "Since I doubt I am the only one who does this, I developed Google Alert. I then saw that Google suggests that their APIs can be used for issuing regularly scheduled search requests to monitor the Web for new information on a subject."

He developed the app "using Apache, PHP and lots of XML" and he says you can use Google Alert to automatically keep track of anything on the Web.

Which means you can monitor any publicity about your competitors' Web sites as well as whether the name of your business was mentioned in somebody's business pages somewhere.

The new version of the free download includes an integrated online browser for exploring search results, and live HTML and RSS feeds for integrating those results into Web pages and desktops.

"The goal was to make Google Alert so clean and simple, that anyone who uses a search engine can also feel comfortable using this automated service," Greenspan said. "Version 2.0 does just that."

The tool was originally called Googlert, but Greenspan says that Google "politely requested that we change the name in order to protect the integrity of their trademark."

The site says this little tool is for non-commercial use only (one reviewer called it great for "ego-surfing by e-mail") subject to Google's API terms, so I'm not going to endorse it for business use. But I don't see how they can regulate it and let me just say it seems to be a handy little tool. You can plug in up to three search terms at a time, and by drilling down, you can employ some advanced search techniques to find just what you're looking for.

"We are not endorsing Alert, but it appears that he is using our API," said Nathan Tyler, public relations manager at Google.

Greenspan told me in an e-mail interview that "there are no set plans at this point" to take Google Alert commercial, "so I'm keeping my options open." With Google's agreement, there is a possibility of taking it commercial in the future, for example offering paid subscribers much larger search sizes, more search terms and other additional features. For now, he's financed it all himself.

But he clearly sees the possibilities. "In the future Google Alert could be applied to let businesses keep track of where they, their competitors or their partners are mentioned on the Web. The possibilities are endless. Furthermore, the HTML and RSS feeds, now in beta, could allow organizations to integrate live Google Alert results into their Web sites."

When I ran GoogleAlert, I found several new mentions of my little business. And after learning about all the other people in the world with my name, I've decided that really, I won't run that as a search term again anytime soon.

As for Greenspan, he said "the Web has been really good to me in allowing me to sell my software independently, so I also view Google Alert as an opportunity to give something back."

Adapted from ecommerce-guide.com.

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