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Four Tools for Tracking Topics in Social Media

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Photo credit: jlcwalker

I’ve written previously about the inadequacy of Google Alerts for tracking information and conversations around a given topic. Google has some algorithm for determining what content ends up in your daily email. Sometimes it’s good, many times there’s little value there.

Today, Telligent’s George Dearing tweeted this:

i’ve got a Google Alert set-up for enterprise 2.0..can you say diminishing returns? Paltry at best. #enterprise2.0

I’m currently using four different services for tracking information and conversations around ‘Enterprise 2.0’. With these four, I’ve got good coverage on the state of the sector and what people are buzzing about.

I wanted to share the four services I’m currently using. I follow  ‘Enterprise 2.0’, but you can use them for any topic you’re tracking. The four tools differ in how they use ‘authority’ as a basis for surfacing what’s new and relevant for a topic. Here they are:

four-info-tools-plotted-by-authority

I’ll describe the four below, starting from high use of authority and working backwards.

Google Alerts

Yeah, Google Alerts are imperfect. But they’re still pretty good for a quick read on potentially interesting topics. I don’t know exactly what Google uses, but I think it’s safe to assume it follows a similar path to search results.

Google Alerts do give a nice selection of news, website and blog updates around a topic. They limit the number of results, which makes them easy to scan quickly to see if there’s anything of interest.

One problem with these results is that they often contain links that really aren’t helpful in keeping up with a topic. I attribute this to the imperfections of computer algorithms in identifying what’s valuable.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Sacha Chua, whose blog always manages to make it into Google Alerts for ‘Enterprise 2.0’. She may have cracked the Google Alerts algorithm.

Filtrbox

Filtrbox is a service that lets you track mentions of keywords you’re tracking across a variety of media types:

  • Mainstream media
  • Blogs
  • Social media

The service is great for digging up nuggets throughout the web. The daily email can be a little daunting, with many more results than what you see in your Google Alert.

You can create separate folders on Filtrbox. For instance, I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0’ folder. Inside that folder, I track mentions of ‘enterprise 2.0’ and ‘social software’ as sub-folders. My daily email includes both sub-folders. This sub-folder approach is a great way to tie different keywords into a common topic.

Filtrbox lets you decide what level of authority to use in filtering results for your topics. Called FiltrRank, the algorithm scores content on a 1 to 10 scale.  You simply “turn the dial” to require a higher level of authority in your results. I don’t know what the secret sauce for FiltrRank is.

Filtrbox also lets you block domains, so that you can avoid seeing results for specific websites. Pretty handy, actually.

MicroPlaza

MicroPlaza is a service, in beta, which tracks content based on tweets. The core idea is that the higher the number of tweets, the more interesting the tweeted content is.

MicroPlaza doesn’t just scan all tweets to deliver popular posts. Rather, it uses who you follow as the starting basis. If someone you follow tweets a link, MicroPlaza will rank the content based on all tweets of that link, not just who you follow.

But it starts by having someone you follow tweeting it. Otherwise you won’t see it in your list of popular content.

The really innovative thing that MicroPlaza has done is Tribes. A Tribe is a group of people you follow on Twitter, according to however you want to group them. For instance, I’ve created my own ‘Enterprise 2.0’ Tribe.

This is powerful stuff. Tribes narrows the range of content I see to be more closely linked to a topic I care about. It still leverages the total popularity of those tweeted links throughout Twitter, but only if someone from my Tribe tweeted it.

MicroPlaza is still in beta. I may be able to get you an invite, leave a comment if you’re interested.

FriendFeed Lists

FriendFeed is the uber information tracking service. With one subscription, you get a variety of a person’s activity streams: tweets, blog posts, bookmarks, Google Reader shares, etc. You can also track people that haven’t joined FriendFeed via the imaginary friends feature.

FriendFeed includes a feature called Lists. Lists are your own selected groups of people you follow on FriendFeed. I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0’ List with over 70 different people I follow in the industry.

I’ve also created a public Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. This Room tracks tweets and Del.icio.us bookmarks related to the Enterprise 2.0 world.

FriendFeed Lists can include not only people, but Rooms as well. So my Enterprise 2.0 Room is included in my Enterprise 2.0 List. The List becomes my one place to track the ongoing observations and relevant content for what I want to track.

I ranked this the lowest in terms of authority-based filtering. The filtering really happens by who you put in your List. You can select individuals who for you personally constitute authorities, and leverage what they’re finding interesting. The Del.icio.us bookmarks constitute another implicit basis for authority. Bookmarking is a fairly engaged activity of retention, meaning the associated content has value.

As I wrote before in Follow Everything by a Select Few, Select Content by Everyone, FriendFeed Lists are a great way to stay on top of a topic.

How About You?

Those are my current tools for tracking what’s happening on a topic. I’m sure there are others out there. What are your favorite tools?

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