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A private clipping service for the masses



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Web search engines provide easy solution for those seeking information.

HARTFORD COURANT

For years, I wished I could afford a clipping service.

That's where you pay someone else to scan newspapers and magazines across the country. When they find something on your list of things that interest you, they send you a copy.

Such services do exist, of course, but they're generally far too pricey for a working stiff like me.

Which is why I was thrilled when I realized that there's an easy way to receive most of the benefits of a clipping service without the expense. Perhaps you'd like to try it.

Here's all you have to do:

First, surf on over to Google News at news.google.com. Then do a search for something that interests you. Next, sort that list of results by clicking on the "sort by date" link in the top right-hand corner of the Web page. Finally, go to the top of your browser, and save this page as a "favorite" or "bookmark."

Now, whenever you want the latest news on this subject from 4,500 newspapers, magazines, newsletters and Web sites around the world, just click on your bookmark. Google News will instantly return a fresh set of search results.

Hilary Swank

Imagine, for example, that you're a huge fan of Hilary Swank, star of the new boxing movie "Million Dollar Baby." Imagine you just can't get enough news about Swank.

So, you type "Hilary Swank" into Google News, making sure to put quotation marks around her name. (That way, that you only get stories about Hilary Swank -- and not ones about, say, singer/actress Hilary Duff, or an Australian racehorse named Hilary Ross.)

Sort and bookmark the result, and voila! The latest news on Hilary Swank is always just a click away.

Don't limit yourself to one item of interest. In minutes, you can set up similar bookmarks to track other celebrities ("Garth Brooks"), your favorite sports team ("UConn Huskies"), future purchases ("digital cameras"), and important public issues ("global warming").

Newslinking

If you must have up-to-the-minute news updates, you can use Google Alerts at www.google.com/alerts to receive e-mail notices whenever news breaks on your subject of interest.

Just beware that you should only use Google Alerts for very sharply focused topics. If you create an alert on "Hilary Swank," you're inbox will be overwhelmed in no time.

I call this trick of bookmarking pre-programmed news searches "newslinking." And it isn't limited to Google. The same thing works at AllTheWeb at www.alltheweb.com, at Yahoo! News at news.yahoo.com and at Daypop at www.daypop.com and others.

Soon, you'll be amazing your friends and colleagues with how well-read you seemingly are, as you casually mention that story about an old college buddy in Sunday's Washington Post or the mention of a business competitor that appeared in Tuesday's International Herald Tribune.

The downside

Naturally, there are a couple of problems to watch out for.

Many of the news sources scanned by these search engines require free registration, so you may have to create an account with the individual newspaper and magazine sites in order to view the stories they publish. That's a small price to pay, if you ask me, but you may think differently.

Certain other sites, such as the Wall Street Journal Online, require payment in order to read their stories. These sources typically aren't scanned by the search engines, so you'll probably miss anything that appears there. Some publications simply don't put their stories on the Web.

Despite those downsides, this quickie search technique gets you most of what there is to see for far less than you'd be charged by a professional clipping service.

I will, no doubt, immediately hear from a bunch of such services -- all hastily pointing out what they can offer that newslinking cannot. They'll probably have a point. But I'm also sure no one will be offering to match the price of newslinking. It's pretty hard to compete with free.




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