Monday, October 21, 2013

Google Alerts: the Now, the What, the Who

I've been looking into Google Alerts as a curation tool of late, as I wrote in a recent blog post, but I wanted to throw some thoughts out there as to its usefulness and some of the things that I've found .

My general impression is that I'm very impressed. I've used Google Alerts before to monitor people, but I've never really approached it topically, and I have to say, I've really been missing out on a valuable tool. I put up three alerts (queries) on Thursday and have been receiving daily updates on "digital worlds," "virtual worlds," and "virtual civilizations," and while I've gotten a few things that were less applicable to my particular area of interest, I've discovered a lot of really interesting recent, meaningful resources and found people with whom I can connect.

One of the things that I love most about Google Alerts is that it monitors web content as it is created and as people interact with it, meaning that I get the most recent information on these topics and can connect with people who are actively creating content. One blogger, for example, posts almost daily about her experiences within Second Life, an online social platform. From the recent posts of this self-dubbed "Virtual World Technologist,"  I've learned a lot about social movements and unrest that have been going on in Second Life because of changes to ownership and copyright law within the virtual world. I've also gotten to see interesting cultural trends, like the fact that Second Life has its own Burning Man event--as in, an event held within the virtual world itself.

One of the books that I stumbled upon (and ordered)
as I was researching using Google Alerts.
Another blurb-length blog post on rampant hyperinflation within the Diablo III real-money market economy led me to a new term, the metaverse, as well as some great resources on virtual economies (I also thought it kind of fitting that the Diablo III homepage was announcing an Auction House update on their main page). One other blogger, Doug Thompson, proposed the idea of "The Internet of Things"in a post from last Friday, saying that digital and virtual technology have as their end goal integration into our daily lives: phones that remind you to bring an umbrella based on humidity sensors, nanobots that monitor vitamin levels in the body (though this is more of a Ray Kurzewil idea), and that's just the beginning. Thompson sees virtual worlds not as alternate realities but as components of our existing realities, and with time, these seemingly disparate realms will come together to our general benefit.

I guess the point of all this, though, is to show that Google Alerts really has been quite useful for me over the past few days. I've found all sorts of new ideas, terms, and resources connected to my topic, and I've found people who are actively engaging with these topics. In the short span of just a few days, I've been able to gather some really recent, relevant, and meaningful information, and thanks to my old pal Diigo, I can access all of it readily from any computer. Most importantly, though, I see that there are people who are interested in these ideas--not just enthusiasts and gamers who are parts of these virtual worlds but also scholars who are trying to examine these issues through existing academic paradigms, and that means that what I'm doing has some value to someone. My voice is not an echo to be heard resounding off of the walls of my own mind but is rather a conversation, however inchoate, that can lead to further discourse and insight.

So, Google Alerts, you get my thumbs up...