“Cool” may not be quite the right word for these tools, except in my world where cool describes anything I’m interested in. But there’s a few web tricks I use to keep tabs on particular topics for one of my blogs, and it occurs to me other blogger types might be interested for their own purposes.
The TV, Eh? What’s Up in Canadian Television site is focused on a specific topic: it gathers existing news, media releases, and scheduling information on Canadian television programming. I started it because I wanted a one-stop resource, since it’s a huge pain to find information about Canadian programs on the web. Then I realized, d'oh, maintaining the site would be a challenge because it’s a huge pain to find information about Canadian programs on the web.
Add to that the fact that Canadian networks subscribe to the stealth theory of marketing when it comes to homegrown programs (“shhh, don’t tell them about it or they might watch!”), and I need all the technological help I can get to make all this scattered information come to me.
You might not have exactly the same need to obsessively scrounge for every single article on a specific subject, but you might want to use these kinds of tools to keep on top of the news in your particular field and get blogging inspiration. Or, better yet, you could make my life easier and let me know what tools you find even more helpful.
You can personalize your Google News page by logging in with your Google ID, adding custom searches – I mostly use the title of shows currently on the air – and getting rid of the defaults. I don’t need to see the sports section, for example, so I deleted that and every other default section I could. But I do want to track every instance of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and “The Jane Show,” so those are two of my custom searches.
You can see what I’m talking about on my personalized page (though if you're logged in to your own Google account, you might see your own personalized page and think I’m making this up — log out first).
Finding good search terms for some topics is a challenge. I use “Canadian television” as a hail Mary catch-all, but it’s too broad to be very useful. The CBC show Intelligence was nearly impossible to create an accurate search for, which is why I have “Chris Haddock CBC” now as I wait for renewal news, assuming those announcements will mention the creator. And you might be surprised how many corner gas store mentions I need to sift through to find articles on Corner Gas the series.
But the major problem with this system isn’t all the false positives, since, with the exception of something as generic as “intelligence,” I can easily skim right over those to find what I’m looking for. The major problem is that these custom searches only look for what I tell them to. Stupid computers, no critical thinking skills. So a show’s not going to appear if it’s new, or I don’t know about it, or it never gets press coverage so I haven’t bothered to create a custom search. That’s where another tool comes in handy.
Instead of individually visiting the various websites I know about that regularly write about Canadian television (well, as regular as it gets here), I subscribe via a web-based reader in order to scan for relevant articles. This collection includes online versions of newspapers, most of which have RSS feeds for the entertainment sections, at least, if not specifically television.
Google Reader isn’t my preferred reader for sites I follow for my own interest – that would be Thunderbird, where each post is delivered like an e-mail – but it’s great for this purpose because I can skim all the recent articles in each feed online. Plus, since I use a Gmail account and Google News for the TV, Eh? site, it also means the small comfort of having one login for all of them.
Gathering the material for the TV, Eh? site is the hard part. The easy part is linking to the original content. But sometimes there are several items on one page and I want my readers to jump right to the good stuff, so I’ve started using this nifty site called Cite Bite.
Input the bit of text you want to jump to, and the URL of the web page that text is on, and Cite Bite creates a link to that part of the page with the given text highlighted. See an example where I was only interested in pointing out the item on Robson Arms.
Even with these tools, I still have to comb a few sites, like network media release pages or episode information (stealth marketing, remember). Of course I still don’t catch everything, and it still takes some time to cull through all the resources I’ve gathered. I’ve learned to let go of the ideal of perfection and accept that I’m doing the best I can. Except it really, really bugs me. So let me know if you have your own web tricks to bring web-based content to you. Please. Pretty please.