Living smart means staying informed, but these days that’s like Charlie Sheen staying stimulated — there’s far, far too much stuff doing that and what’s desperately needed is some means of control. Once upon a time the man who knew which rocks made the sparks had all the information he needed to get ahead. Nowadays things are trickier. Luckily the endless ocean of information has evolved its own filters — customizable searchbots which can be programmed to trawl the endless wastes and keep you up-to-date on everything you need to know. And, with the exact same function as most of the robots controlled by megavillains in science-fiction movies, eliminate the things you don’t want.
1. Google Alerts
If you’re looking for information online and don’t automatically think of Google, you’re either a time traveler or not very good at this. Google Alerts is the all-in-one web-spider that updates you even as it updates Google’s own records. You’ll know the very instant everyone else does.
You can set some simple options, reducing the quantity of links sent, the type, and how often you get them. They’re easy to manage as well. If you send it to your gmail account you can set up filters to push it all to folders, though we recommend Google Reader because forwarding info to your mailbox makes “Inbox Zero” impossible. Reader allows you to divide and subdivide incoming feeds into folders, making them much easier to review. Tip: unless you’re dedicated to social media spamming, you’ll want to restrict the type to “news.”
If you need to stay up-to-the-second on the latest news on your field, or you’re just trying to stop hitting “refresh” on the same 10 sites 4,000 times a day, notify.me can help you. You can add all your regular bookmarks, websites, and (most importantly) customized search terms to a single notify.me account and it’ll keep in touch wherever you are.
Forward stock news to your phone, or simply send all your social networking information to a single desktop app (so you don’t waste time signing in and out). We’d recommend caution, as with any powerful tool: forwarding too much to your phone can drown you in data. Pick and choose what you send where!
Trackle takes the pain out of searching for what you need, by very correctly realizing that you should only do it once. After that it’s up to the computer. You set up “tracklets” to keep you informed. As well as the usual web searches, you can decide you want a job in this area with that salary, that you want to find a deal on a camera under $500 in your home city, or that you just want to be notified of incoming storms in your area.
The ability to specify characteristics automatically does most of the work of searching for you. We’ve all typed a term into Google, then screened through pages of results automatically ignoring all the irrelevant options. Why shouldn’t the computer do that part too?
Numbers 1 and 3 above, their powers combined! Yotify refines Google Alerts with customized search filters and adds a whole heap of other sites too. This is the Smartlife Shopper’s dream — as long as you start planning a few weeks before you need something, you can set up searches to find the absolute best deal instead of paying through the nose (or worse, through the credit card) when you absolutely have to have it.
It’s customized searching set up to save you money, and it’s about time new technology didn’t make us want to spend more.
Downloading the entire Internet’s results into your brain every day might work if you’re Tony Stark, but the rest of us have better things to do. In fact, so does he. That’s where Searchbots come in. They’re a cross between search engines and Tamagotchi, a crazy experiment from a utopian future where information is food and you play with your programs. And instead of filling your head with your search engine, you fill your search engine with a copy of your head!
You “build” your own searchbot. This doesn’t just mean selecting appearance, which you can also do but is about as relevant as choosing the color of your computer. You first set the words, which act as the core of its “mind,” and it learns more every time you use it to search. In fact failing to use your bot will cause it to run out of power and fall apart.
This isn’t Farmville-level forcing you to keep coming back, but an attempt to let you enjoy the benefits of searchbots. The first time you use the bot it’ll look like a flash-based Google (a.k.a. slower and unnecessarily complicated Google), but as you keep coming back you’ll be crafting a bot tuned to your interests. If you have a project requiring repeated, long-term searches for related material, using a search bot means you can make a valuable tool while performing the searches you’d be doing anyway, until you reach the point where you hardly have to do the searching at all.
For the business tracker it’s not enough to be provided with mountains of information — that just means you spend all day dealing with it. CyberAlert plans take care of that. It’s a paid service, but they don’t just provide PR mentions of your keywords (even searching through videos for mentions of relevant subjects), but provide it all in an easily edited package and an online clipping book where you can save any interesting or useful results.
One of the most interesting services is the a.m. NewsBrief — a morning digest for the commute to work. Instead of burdening you with a brace of links, the NewsBrief rewrites everything in a quick daily update on the state of your subject, making you the most informed in the office. It also puts numbers to it for you. It’s not your job to measure all the media, but to use it. Not the other way round. Something the media’s forgotten, and it’s easy for us to make the same mistake now.
Image credit: LeoBlanchette / iStockphoto