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Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Get custom-made alerts on news events

Oct. 26, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   I live in the rolling farmland of Central New York, yet I know as much about daily events in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, as many "P-town" residents do.
   My wife and I spend our vacations there, riding bikes on the trails, watching the whales and enjoying the city's delightful Portuguese-American cuisine. We like to keep up-to-date on what's going on.
   And we also need to know what the traffic's like around Boston, so we can avoid any slow-downs in our 7-hour drive to the cape.
   How do I get news and events about Provincetown? I let Google do the work, using Google Alerts. They're free and easy to set up and just as easy to fine-tune. Google digs up whatever it can find about coming events and e-mails the news to me.
   And those traffic reports? They're e-mailed to me, too, also for free, by a site called Alerts.com at www.alerts.com.
   Hey, at a time when money's hard to get, "free" is about as good as it gets. And both these services are the handiest things imaginable, working on Windows PCs or Macs (or Linux computers, for that matter), using any Web browser. You don't have to buy any software, you don't need to pay any money, and you can use whatever you have now to work on the Web.
   Google Alerts is so good at rounding up information that it's used by researchers. Basically, it does the sort of searches you'd do if you sat at your computer and searched 24 hours a day -- except that Google Search does it automatically, then e-mails links to you with its results.
   To set up a Google Alert, open the main Google page in your Web browser, at www.google.com. Click the link labeled "More" at the upper left, then click "even more." You'll see "Alerts" at the top. Click that link.
   Type the same kind of search term you'd put into a regular Google search form. Note that you can choose the kind of search -- "Comprehensive" does the most -- and you can choose how often Google sends you links.
   To manage searches, you'll need a Google account. It's free and provides a Gmail account. Click the Gmail link on the main Google page.
   For more than what Google normally offers, I turned to Alerts.com. At no cost, Alerts.com will inform you of price drops on various products, sports scores, the lowest gas prices, job openings, weather emergencies, and, of course, traffic conditions.
   Alerts.com can notify you by text messaging (called SMS) instead of by e-mail if you like. Although e-mail and text alerts are both free, your cell-phone provider might charge for text messages it displays on your phone. Be sure to check the rates before you choose to be alerted by text messages.