Yes, I'm often very critical and/or sarcastic about Google's ongoing mission to take over the world. The truth is that the reason they're so close to fulfilling that mission is that they are so good at so many of the things they do. Google Alerts is a good example.
I set up alerts to help track my and my clients' digital reputation (online profile), and to keep up with current events and news that are important to me. Unlike my feed reader (also on Google), which help me keep up with specific websites and blogs, the alerts allow me to track search terms such as names keywords relating to specific news stories.
Setting up alerts is easy. Go to alerts.google.com, and enter your search term. Preview the results, and either broaden or narrow down your search to a level that makes sense. Select your desired frequency, and enter your e-mail address (it doesn't have to be Gmail.) If you're not using Gmail, and/or you're not signed into your Google account, you'll receive an e-mail asking you to confirm the alert.
After that, you'll receive alerts daily or several times per day (depending on the frequency you have selected) with blog posts, website articles, discussion forum posts, and social networking discussions containing your search term. Since Google pretty much crawls everything now, the results are pretty comprehensive.
If the story is one you only want to track for a short period of time, you can always stop the alerts at any time by clicking on the link provided with each e-mail.
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.