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Google Alerts Ain’t Working – Why Don’t They Use Attention Signals?


Do you use Google Alerts?

I do. I’ve got seven of them set up. Generally, they’re pretty helpful. But they often suffer in terms of quality. Here’s a few comments with regard to that:

#1: @VMaryAbraham so am I. Google alerts and blog search have been delivering really bad quality results lately. Old and spam.

#2: Google Alerts actually sent me some useful info today instead of the usual mess of bizarre kitchen sink links from random years and places.

#3: @JesseStay my Google alerts are similarly getting less useful

One of my alerts is for ‘Enterprise 2.0′. I’m doing a pretty good job of staying on top of things in the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed, but the Alerts are good back-up. And Google Alerts are the most common keyword notification service that people use.

So this is my question: what determines the links we see in those daily Google Alerts?

I ask this because of a recent experience with a well-received blog post that was not included in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Alerts. Compared to another post that did make it in to the Google Alerts, I find myself mystified as to what algorithm Google is using to generate its Alerts.

It’s not to say that Google Alerts don’t deliver some good posts – they do. But they seem to miss the mark pretty often as well, as the quotes at the start of this post show. I’ll relate my own experience below, based on objective factors, as opposed to my own declaration that “It was good post dammit!” ;-)

Tale of Two Blog Posts

I checked the Google Alert of January 18 for Enterprise 2.0. Here’s what I saw (my red highlight added):

google-alert-enterprise-20-011809

The highlighted post is a schedule of Web 2.0 sessions for Lotusphere 2009. If you’re into Lotus, good stuff. One session at Lotusphere was titled “INV101 –   From Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0: Collaboration, Productivity, and Adoption in the Enterprise”. Hence, its inclusion in the Enterprise 2.0 Google Alert.

I use that entry as a contrast to a post I wrote on the Connectbeam blog, titled Three Silos That Enterprise 2.0 Must Break. It’s a post that pushed some definitions of what a silo is and where knowledge management needs to move to. It was well-received, with a number of attention signals like Del.icio.us bookmarks and tweets.

And you’ll notice it’s not listed in the Alerts email above, or in any earlier ones. It was included in my ‘Connectbeam’ Google Alert. So I know Google had indexed it in its blog database. But it was not in the ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Google Alert. Which got me to wondering, what does it take for a post to make into the daily digest of Google Alerts?

I put together a comparison of the two posts: the Lotusphere post, and the Connectbeam Three Silos post. I wanted to see where the Connectbeam post falls short. Take a look:

google-alerts-tale-of-the-tape

The table above includes some typical Google attributes: PageRank, term frequency, links. It also includes the next generation of content ranking: comments, bookmarks, tweets and Google Reader shares. On either basis, it’s surprising that the Lotusphere post made the cut, while the Connectbeam post didn’t.

So I’m still trying to figure out what makes the difference here. Clearly, the Three Silos post struck a bit of a chord in the Enterprise 2.0 community. I know this not because of links by other bloggers (although they were there), but by the other Web 2.0 ways people communicate what’s of value to them.

How about it Google? Time to update your algorithms to include attention signals from our growing use of social media?

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

5 Responses to Google Alerts Ain’t Working – Why Don’t They Use Attention Signals?

  1. dave simpson says:

    very informative – thank you I’ve bookmarked this blog and will come back regularly

  2. Pingback: Four Tools for Tracking Topics in Social Media « I’m Not Actually a Geek

  3. I’ve noticed this problem recently (last month or so) also.
    I set up a google alert for my last name (Koomey) and for years it just reported
    new results and was pretty reliable, but now, all these old papers I’ve written are popping up in the alerts every day, with no new results. Very weird. Something’s clearly wrong here.

    • Jonathan – I’ve noticed the same. Old stuff seems to rearing its head a lot in Google Alerts. Not sure why.

  4. Max says:

    My alerts have just stopped coming and refuse to be re-set up. Any ideas?

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