Alerts: How to Create a Personal Information System (about anything)


The massive increase in the quantity of published blogs, articles, tweets and other sources of information is causing a wide range of problems for more than just the companies that are trying to monitor their surroundings. Even forty years ago, firms were struggling to cope with the uncontrollable flood of information coming their way, and how to analyse it.

Igor Ansoff determined that traditional management primarily faces the following problems (Ansoff, 1980):

  1. The signals that the market broadcasts often remain unnoticed. In particular, there is a lack of timely warnings, and this leads to  situations in which companies face unexpected surprises.
  2. Senior management suffers from a flood of information and a lack of professional capacity to analyse it and to find any possible connections or relationships for the company.
  3. If key information about activity in the market does reach the company, it will still often not get to the relevant employees.
  4. There is no attempt (or sometimes no capability) to gather information within the company and generate positive outcomes for the decision-making process.

This flood of information doesn’t just affect companies, but also individuals, as most of us are similarly overwhelmed these days.

An important tool for filtering and refining the data we need to solve our information problems are the so-called alert services, or notifications. These are mostly designed to send a message immediately some item of information is indexed in an online environment. You can choose whether you want the message sent via e-mail, an RSS reader, or some kind of dashboard. If you start using alert services, you are well on your way to solving some of the basic problems connected with the explosion of information in recent years and the difficulties in judging the relevance of this information.

Google Alerts

Let’s take a look at one of the most well-known alert services: Google Alerts. After you enter a relevant question or term, this informs you whenever any new items of information appear.

You can set a number of different criteria in Google Alerts

Google also allows us to custom refine our alert according to the following characteristics:

  • Use Google advanced operators when creating a search question.
  • Choose daily, weekly or real-time notifications.
  • Choose sources from news, blogs, the web, video, books, discussions, finance or just leave everything to Google.
  • Select the language.
  • Select the geographical region
  • Choose whether Google will send all the results or whether it will rank them by quality.
  • Choose the delivery method (e-mail, RSS)

Note that the function of the alerts goes further than just a general update of an RSS feed on e.g. a news server. It is personalised data that can be of significant help when classifying information, as well as those situations when you simply need to monitor any changes related to a certain topic. You need to be aware of this difference, but also follow it through later when implementing real alerts.

Other sources

For science and research there are Google Scholar alerts, or alert services from the open-access

Try to set a specific information requirement of your own on these platforms and have the results sent directly to your e-mail (it’s perhaps a good idea to create a new e-mail address or alias for this experiment).

If you are looking for a good RSS feed reader, we can recommend Feedly, but there are many others available too.

Let us know if you have any tips for a good alert service.

Použitá literatura:

ANSOFF, H. I. Strategic issue management. Strategic Management Journal. 1980, vol. 1, pp. 131-148.

Photo by Erwss, peace&love