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How To Automate Your Ego Searches For Ninja-Like Online Awareness

There’s no shame in admitting that you occasionally Google yourself; it’s worth keeping an eye on what the internet has to say about you. But if you’re manually searching your name on Google, revisiting blog posts you’ve commented on to see if anyone’s replied to what you’ve said, and searching for (non-@)mentions of your company on Twitter, you’re wasting a lot of time. Instead of sitting in front of your computer for an hour a day just to satisfy social curiosity, you can automate the process—and turn your ego search into an ego watch, instead. Here’s how.

Earlier this week, we talked about performing an “ego search” to see what people are saying about you online. Even though it’s the best way to find very specific mentions on any given day, it does take up a lot of time. That’s why we want to automate the process, so we can have our cake and eat it, too.

The easiest way to set up an automated ego search is to turn your everyday ego searches into alerts that come to you only when there’s something new to see. You can do this by setting up email or RSS alerts (which we’ll describe in more detail below); we prefer the latter. Once you have a pile of RSS feeds, you can combine them into a single large feed, or into a few large feeds that cover different aspects of your digital life. At that point, your ego search will have been entirely automated, and all you’ll need is a feed reader—like Google Reader, or a desktop reader for Windows or Mac—to collect anything new for you.

Step One: Set Up Your Ego-Aware Searches

In this section we’ll walk through setting up ego feeds from Google, Twitter, and a few lesser known but worthwhile ego search tools.

Set Up Google Alerts

You might remember Google adding personal alerts to Google Dashboard last week, calling it “Me on the Web”. These simple alerts are too limited to be effective for most of us, but the system behind it isn’t, and it’s called Google Alerts.

One of Google’s best long-lived tools, Google Alerts can be set to monitor any search terms, and when something new on the web matches your terms, it can deliver alerts through email or in an RSS feed that’s delivered straight to Google Reader. You can set up as many alerts as you want, and you can choose whether to have each alert applied to the entire internet, or just specific types of pages (news, blogs, realtime, comments, etc).

To really put Google Alerts to use as an ego search automator, you should take some time to create alerts for every search string you’ve used in a normal ego search that actually got results.

As an example, let’s say Jane Doe wanted to set up alerts for every mention of her and her boyfriend, John. She could create an alert with this as the search string:

“Jane Doe” john OR “her boyfriend” OR “her bf” OR jon
Results would start showing up in her Google Reader feed for that alert as soon as people started talking about her and her boyfriend, as long as they used her name, and any of the words or phrases listed afterwards, even if they spell John’s name as “Jon.” See this list of other Google Search operators to learn how to make other specific search queries.

Just remember: Most search engines support the minus sign (-) operator, meaning NOT, to exclude items from results. If you’re getting a lot of results you don’t want around a specific term, you can exclude them by simply adding a -<term you don’t want>.

Note: If you’d prefer to use a newsreader other than Google Reader, navigate to the Alerts Management page. Next to where it says “Google Reader” on every line, you’ll see the orange RSS icon, linked to a feed URL that you can paste into any feed reader you want.

Create as many of these feeds as you can manage without losing your sanity, and collect all the URLs in one big list.

Get Feeds from Twitter Search

While Google can do a pretty awesome job finding mentions across the internet, it might be a good idea to double up a bit on Twitter, and use their search engine to create a few feeds, too. If you’re worried about getting too many duplicate results, don’t—we can take care of those in the next step.

Go to Twitter Search and create a good custom search, just like you would for a normal ego search. When the results for that search come up, look over to the right sidebar of the page—you’ll see “Feed for this query” there. Clicking it will give you a feed URL for that search.

Create all the Twitter Search feeds you need, and save the URLs to the same list as the others.

Other Useful Tools

There are some other services that can add an extra layer to your ego watch.

Commentful watches nothing but commenting threads—so if you wanted to keep up on happenings at sites you regularly comment at (like Digg, Reddit, or even regular WordPress blogs), you could use the service to keep on top of them. You can create a watchlist for comment threads and get alerts when there are updates, and if you’re a Firefox user, you can even get a blinking notifier at the top of your browser window.

Social Mention is a service set up with the sole purpose of being used as an ego search tool. It’s nowhere near as fast as Google, but it can sometimes find mentions that Google misses. So it could help to create some search queries there, and add their RSS feeds to the mix. Since we’ll eliminate duplicates anyway (see step two), it could pay off to add the extra social coverage just in case. Social Mention also has an alerts system, but it only runs through email.

Then there’s TweetReach. This tool isn’t like the others, because it’s not meant for slyly keeping tabs on something—it’s meant for gauging the “reach” of a specific phrase or keyword as it makes its way across Twitter’s network of users. So, if you search for your name, or enter your web site’s URL, it will grab data for up to 50 tweets to give you an idea of how well it’s circulating. For the web site, TweetReach automatically checks short URLs for matches, so you can simply enter your naked web address to get results.

Step Two: Combine Your Alert Feeds and Filter Out Duplicates

Now you can take all those individual feed URLs and combine them into one monstrous feed, using a free tool like Feed Informer. Set up an account there (it takes about 2 minutes) and create a “digest” using all the feeds you got from Google Alerts.

After every feed’s been added, click the next tab labelled Digest Settings, and scroll down until you see “Dupe Filter.” Set that to filter duplicate feeds based on their URL—this will make sure that you only get one of each unique result, even if you’re combining 50 alert feeds.

If you don’t want just one feed for everything, you can create multiple feeds, and divvy up all the original feeds to include in them.

Step Three: Get Your Alerts Anywhere

Once you’ve got your combined feed set up, you’ve got endless options for what you want to do with it. If you still want to use Google Reader, just unsubscribe from all the individual feeds and subscribe to the new, combined feed instead. If you want to use any other feed reader, you could do that too. Just keep that de-duped feed you created in step two handy and paste it into any reader you like. If you’d like it all to come via email, you could use an RSS-to-email service like Feed My Inbox.

You could even use tools like previously mentioned Boxcar (currently iPhone only, but in development on Android), or Notifo (available on iPhone and in beta on Android), to have updates to your feed sent directly to your pocket as push notifications, and know when someone’s talking trash just minutes after it happened.

Basically, the possibilities are endless once you’ve built the feed—the real work is in coming up with clever search terms that cover anything somebody might say about you, personally, so you can have that search tracked while you go about your day.

That’s all there is to it—at least the basics. You’ll may need to tweak your searches after your initial setup to get the right kind of results you want, but everyone’s different in that aspect, so we’ll leave that to you. Got a favourite ego search trick that keeps you on top of what people are saying about you online? Let’s hear about it in the comments.