My customer asked me: “How can I use Google web applications?”

Head Honcho: “I need you to find the most up-to-date and current trends in our industry. When I mean current, I mean up-to-the-minute trends that will provide us with serious opportunities. You need to understand that this is important stuff here.”

You: “How would you like me to do this?”

Head Honcho: “Use any measure you need to – talk to people, search industry magazines, whatever. However you need to do it is fine – just make sure it gets done.”

You: “Okay, I’ll see what I can come up with…”

So you have a challenge. It’s not going to be an easy task, but you need to do your best to find the latest and greatest, most current information you can about your industry. Where to start… you could do as your boss suggested and give your friend at XYZ Corporation a call. You may not be guaranteed the most current information, but you will at least be able to catch up on last weekend. You could search through industry magazines to see what you can find, but all you seem to have is the month before last for every magazine on your desk. Hmmmm… where to next you ask? Google my friends, Google.

We all know about the ‘monster’ that is Google and its ease of use in everyday life. I’m sure every one of you reading this article is guilty of using the term “just Google it” every now and again. But Google is much more than just a simple search engine. It has extensive capabilities and is more useful in everyday business life than most people know or understand. So today, I am going to introduce you to two fantastic Google features that will help you gain an increased understanding of your industry, help you find the most current information on specific topics and will even help you become the “guy/girl with the fun facts” at dinner parties. Dare I say it, but this information may change your life. I am proud to introduce… Google Reader and Google Alerts.

Google readerGoogle Reader

Google Reader is an easy-to-use, web-based Internet aggregator that reads Atom and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and collects them all in one convenient location. Think of Google Reader as your personalized newspaper that contains up to the minute news about only topics you’re interested in. Right on the Google Reader sign in page, Google asks users, “have trouble keeping up with the sites you visit? Read them in one place with Google Reader, where keeping up with your favorite websites is as easy as checking your email.” All you require to access this service is a Gmail account, which takes a matter of moments to set up if you don’t already have one.

Google Reader was launched in 2005, but I was only very recently introduced to it by a friend.

“You are going to LOVE it!”

And I did. From the very first time I explored its functionality I could see Google Reader’s potential, but it wasn’t until after I began subscribing to printing and publishing-related RSS feeds that I truly saw its possibilities to revolutionize the way I seek out information. Many news sites (The Toronto Star, Toronto Life and The New York Times, for example) all have constant feeds of information that you can subscribe to. Other, less obvious sites, such as prominent television personality’s websites and sales information websites, have RSS feeds for blogs that are updated daily. Once you’ve found a few websites that you have enough interest in to track, subscribing to the feed is as simple as copying and pasting the URL into your Google Reader home page.

There are so many interesting ways to view, explore and share information with others on Google Reader. The core of the Google Reader concept is for users to view huge amounts of information in real time and the users ultimately make the content popular based on how fast and furiously they are “liking”, sharing and commenting on feeds. Google Reader has “share” and “share with note” features, which automatically allow users to create a news feed of everything they deem important enough to share and others with Gmail accounts can follow their stream. As a close friend so eloquently phrased it, “it makes me feel like an elite blogger without any of the work and all of the glory”. One fun RSS feed that is fed by this type of quick to spread response from readers is called ‘Cool via Recommendations’. In this feed you will find a number of pop culture and noteworthy news items that you will see here before they become viral. ‘Cool via Recommendations’ is, in essence, like finding leaked versions of various highly anticipated feature films… 10, 20 and 30 times a day!

Google alertsGoogle Alerts

Google Alerts is an automated web-search service to help subscribers stay current on the web happenings of a certain topic. This up-to-date news comes in the form of an email to your inbox either once a week, once a day or as it happens. The emails link to information on the key words you have entered when creating the alert. I used this service recently to keep tabs on a newly released book and once a day I would receive emails with links to any place on the Internet that my key words were mentioned. I set up the alert so that the emails would arrive in a separate folder within my inbox. This was handy as heck because I only had to visit one location for all of the information concerning this book – my email inbox which I am linked to most of the day anyway. How convenient!

On the Google Alerts home page, they suggest using this free service to “keep current on a competitor or industry”. By simply filling out a few simple questions on the Google Alerts set up form, the search topic, type of information (video, blogs, comprehensive, etc), frequency of information and the number of emails you are willing to receive (up to 20 or up to 50) are completely customized for your informational needs.

The Infinite Possibilities…

There are so many ways to use these services to leverage your organization and help you become savvy and knowledgeable about the latest happenings within your industry. For example, in trying to keep tabs on what’s happening in the trade book publishing industry, I subscribe to publisher’s news feeds and blog sites, as well as publishing magazine’s news feeds (Publisher’s Weekly and Quill & Quire). Often on individual publisher’s websites, publicists will blog about the latest reviews, awards and accolades that specific books receive. This not only allows me to keep current on the latest accomplishments of a publishing house, but it is also an excellent topic of conversation that helps me demonstrate my interest and enthusiasm about the customer.

Unlike an industry magazine that is released each month and can therefore contain information that is 30 days or more out of date, these Google assists provide users with constant streaming information, often from the same industry magazine’s website. It is important to note that not everything included in the printed or electronic magazine will be steamed via RSS feed, however the vast majority of it often is.

Now imagine the potential for information gathering and data collection when Google’s customized streaming news technology is paired with mobile devices such as the Blackberry or iPad, where all of the information presented is relevant to you with the added functionality of videos and links to more information about a topic. The possibilities are endless!

5 Reasons to Love Google Reader & Google Alerts

Both Google Reader and Google Alerts can help you to discover up-to-the-minute information about specific topics. I only skimmed the surface of both web applications in the last few hundred words, so I highly recommend you explore them for yourselves to realize their true potential for your business and your career. In conclusion, here are the top 5 reasons I love Google Reader and Google Alerts:

5. Both Google assists have user-friendly interfaces with minimal advertising and a cohesive look and feel to every piece of information.

4. In just a few clicks of a button, all the information you have asked for is instantly at your fingertips.

3. That same information that is instantly at your fingertips is constantly streamed and fed to you up-to-the-minute.

2. This same up-to-the-minute information continues to stream to you until you ask for it to stop. Therefore, this one-time set up is well worth the few minutes you will invest. Furthermore, these helper applications make it so you don’t have to manually type keywords into the Google search engine everyday and complete your due diligence to manually research a topic. Instead, the information comes to YOU. I admit, it may sound lazy that you “don’t even have to type your keywords into the Google search engine anymore”, but it’s really less about laziness and more about streamlining the way in which we access and obtain the information we require.

1. Both Google Reader and Google Alerts are absolutely FREE! A Tim Horton’s coffee costs infinitely more money than these fountains of information and it takes more time to swing though the drive-thru than it takes to set them up. Be prepared to become the hero of your company with all of the new information you’re about to acquire.

Google has done it again and has made one more giant leap forward in its quest for world domination! Well done Google!


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.