Google Alerts Dying?

Though it sill exists as a service, one Mashable notes that Google Alerts seem to be dying a slow death:

In the wake of Google’s killing of Google Reader, power users now have a new fear: Are Google Alerts next?

Google Alerts is a service that allows users to receive email notifications of updated Google results for a search query or keyword. This lets users easily monitor an ongoing news story or be alerted of new stories mentioning a brand or individual. Google Alerts are actively used by marketers, social media managers, publicists, journalists and researchers. It’s one of Google’s oldest tools, and it’s also one of the most useful — at least, when it works.

For the last few months, users have complained about the unreliable state of Google Alerts. Last month, Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan wrote about Google Alerts in a blog post entitledGoogle Alerts: Why Aren’t You Working?. Sullivan’s issue at the time was that Google Alerts was no longer notifying him about all of the various mentions across search, news and blogs for his subscribed keywords.

On Wednesday, The Financial Brand penned an open letter to Google about the state of Google Alerts, saying that the service is now “useless” to financial marketers.

(…)

To be fair, search is much more an intrinsic part of Google’s real business (advertising) than a reading service ever was. It’s possible that Google Alerts is just on the fritz and that things will be back to normal soon.

And yet. The decision to close a close down Google Reader — a service users loved — is enough to make even the most vociferous Google-defenders skittish.

I’ve had several Google Alerts set up for years now that I use, or should that be used?, to keep track of items of interest that may pop up in online sources that I don’t check on a regular basis. For the most part, it worked well. However, I too have noticed a drop off in the number of alerts that I received, and in the quality of the material presented. It appears that Google is letting this service die through neglect.

FILED UNDER: General
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Jim Fallows had an interesting post the other day noting that, by constantly dropping support for programs beloved of power users with big megaphones, they’re making it less likely that people will risk adopting future Google programs. I think he’s right.

  2. JKB says:

    Well, Google has problems. There was a post recently somewhere I can’t remember commenting on Google not returning valid results on searches supporting gun ownership. I had that experience yesterday. A google for “million moms against gun control” returned a bunch of gun control links except for the bottom one on the first page and it wasn’t the link to the site I was seeking. The same search on Bing brought up the Facebook page for the group as the top link. So I’m breaking the habit of always going to Google. They either have chosen to “be evil” or they have some Leftist employees messing with their algorithms. Or maybe they don’t want to return pages with high applicability to the search anymore

  3. @JKB: I just tried that search via Google out of curiosity. The FB page was the second item listed.

    Are you sure you did it correctly?

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Actually I just tried it myself through google chrome (that is I searched from the address bar, not by going to google.com and searching that way). To my knowledge it should be the same search, but perhaps it works slightly different.

    Anyway, the search results were exactly as JKB said. Twenty or so articles about Million Moms For Gun Control, and the second to last on the bottom being the facebook group for Million Moms Against Gun Control.

    So while I often disagree with JKB, he is not being dishonest here.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Not to beat a dead horse (but its Friday afternoon, so what the hey),

    Searching the phrase in quotations brings up the best results, searching without quotations bring’s up JKB’s results. It seems to me that google might be bringing up the most popular pages based on key words, but doing so at the expense of the actual phrased searched. While this is not nefarious, it does make for a crappy method of searching.

  6. @Neil Hudelson: I used quotation marks for my search.

  7. PJ says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    If you want an actual phrase you use quotation marks.

  8. @Neil Hudelson: I didn’t think, by way, that he was being dishonest. I thought maybe he didn’t use the quotation marks and then ascribed political motives to the algorithm when the more likely explanation was that the search string without the quotation marks honed in on the more significant search string of gun control.

  9. He is right, however, Bing does give him the results he wanted without quotation marks.

  10. JKB says:

    I didn’t use quotation marks. But it seems that others have replicated my results. I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t read that post earlier, which I can’t remember where it was posted.

    I had started to notice that Google will often latch on to one key word to the detriment of the whole. It is annoying. But I suppose that that method provides them with better financial return. In any case, I’ll be using Bing more simply because it returns more relevant links closer to my expectations….so far.

  11. Tony W says:

    @JKB: It comes down to the business model – Google sells keywords – and that represents, to my understanding, well over 90% of their revenue. Search is not there as a public service…and alerts don’t generate users’ eyeballs doing manual searches and clicking on those advertisements.

  12. @James Joyner: I will not be adopting Google Keep at all, nor any other Google product in the future, partially because I’m pissed off, and partially because I can’t trust them anymore. If Google Alerts doesn’t work properly, why should I have confidence in any of their other products, like Google Analytics, or Google Adwords, or Gmail?

    This is what happens when big, monopolistic companies think they can just belly-bop their customers/users around.

  13. @Jeffry Pilcher | The Financial Brand:

    This is what happens when big, monopolistic companies think they can just belly-bop their customers/users around.

    But here’s the problem: we aren’t the customers. We are the products. Google (and Facebook) gives us free stuff so that they can sell our eyeballs (and data about our habits) to advertisers.

  14. just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Good point. In a similar vein, if Google Alerts is valuable to a certain segment of the business world, shouldn’t they be willing to PAY for access to the service? Isn’t that what the free entereprise model and the invisible hand forcast will happen? What’s going wrong here? Is the economy broken?

  15. 1. I would be happy to pay for a service that works. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing with Mention.net. Why Google couldn’t or wouldn’t pursue a paid option instead of killing a very useful tool is beyond me.

    2. If, as Steven Taylor says, that my eyeballs, search history and click patterns are what Google finds most valuable, then don’t they have a vested interest in providing (and maintaining) as many useful free tools as possible?

    No matter what side of this “cost” argument you’re on — pay-to-play or you-get-it-for-free — Google has colossally screwed up.

  16. Last comment spam filtered for no good reason.

  17. @Jeffry Pilcher | The Financial Brand: The filter works in mysterious ways at time. I have released it.

  18. @Jeffry Pilcher | The Financial Brand:

    No matter what side of this “cost” argument you’re on — pay-to-play or you-get-it-for-free — Google has colossally screwed up.

    Not to defend Google, per se, but: if they aren’t making money off of a service because it is under-utilized and therefore not worth the cost of maintaining it, isn’t that just market forces in operation here?

    I like Reader, I use Alerts (and have used other Google products that have gone away), so it isn’t like I don’t have any interest in the game, so to speak. My point is, however, that this type of product is one in which the user is not the customer, and therefore we have to take this into consideration when trying to understand Google’s behavior. I think we often apply the mindset of a customer when, in fact, we aren’t. It is the price of the free stuff.

  19. @Steven L. Taylor: Okay, users of Google Alerts may not be “customers,” but if you think about Google’s free services and its business model, its users are “the product.” In other words, users like me (and my data like my search history and clicks) are what Google is selling to advertisers who pay. As others have said before, “If you aren’t paying for something, you are the product.”

    If Google wants to keep using me as a “product,” they had better improve (1) their communication with me (their cog, their widget, their inventory), and (2) their core business model of search.

  20. We can argue this back and forth all day long. You may think a user of a free service has no right to complain, but I feel very much entitled to gripe about the quality of Google’s service. I have paid money to Google before. They get plenty from me, including:

    – all my site traffic data because I use Google Analytics (a free service)
    – videos on two YouTube channels that have generated around 1 million views (a free service)
    – my personal search data (clicks, history, alerts)
    – Google Apps (paid tools for my business)

    Google can make a cold, callous decision to just cut off Alerts. That’s their choice. But the manner in which they’ve handled it thus far has dealt a blow to their brand. Maybe they are cutting off their nose to spite their face?

  21. @Jeffry Pilcher | The Financial Brand:

    You may think a user of a free service has no right to complain, but I feel very much entitled to gripe about the quality of Google’s service.

    You certainly have the right to complain and you are also correct that Google has an incentive to keep you using their products.

    All I am reacting to is the notion that we are customers of Google (or Facebook or Twitter). That just isn’t the right model for understanding the dynamic.

    Further, I think that free is such a powerful force that Google can afford to cut off its nose a bit.