Oh to be Odin. That guy didn’t need any Internet monitoring tools. He had Huginn and Muninn, his ravens, who flew around the world and brought him information. But I don’t have ravens, so I rely on things like curated Twitter lists and RSS feeds and Google Alerts.
Using several tools for information curation isn’t to be flashy or complicated. It’s to make sure that I’m looking in all the corners of the Internet for useful news and resources. Of course there will be some overlap with my results, but I see that as a good sign: it means my coverage is thorough.
But when I lose one of my curation sources it puts a serious crimp in my information flow. When Nuzzel shut down, I had to build out more alerts and RSS feeds to work around that loss. And now Google Alerts is acting flaky; I’ve gotten only a few Google Alerts in the last three days.
Google Alerts surfaces a lot of news for me. What am I to do? I can’t just sit around and wait for it to be fixed. I need an alternative.
There aren’t huge numbers of news search engines anymore since the Facebook / Google juggernaut has kind of flattened everything. But good news: there’s still Bing News. And better news: it has RSS feeds!
This afternoon I figured out how to take my Google Alerts and turn them into Bing News RSS feeds. It takes several steps but they’re not complicated. If you don’t have a ton of Google Alerts it won’t even take you that long.
Here we go!
Grab your Google Alerts List
Start by going to https://www.google.com/alerts . It’ll show you a list of Google Alerts that looks something like this:
Yes, I have 176 Google Alerts, though some of them are searches I’m trying to get right for a Patreon patron.
Google has a data export service called Google Takeout, but as far as I can tell it does not allow export of Google Alert data. So we’ll have to do this the sloppy way.
Right-click on your Google Alerts page and choose Save As… and just save the whole HTML file. You should end up with an HTML file in your Downloads folder that looks something like Google%20Alerts%20-%20Monitor%20the%20Web%20for%20interesting%20new%20content.html .
Now we need to winkle out the meat of the file – all those useful Google Alerts.
Get The Good Stuff and Clean It Up
Open Google Drive and choose New, then Google Docs. DO NOT choose File Upload because you’ll get a screen full of garbage.
Once you’re on a blank Google Docs page, choose File -> Open, and upload your Google Alerts HTML file.
Once you’ve uploaded the file, it’ll look unformatted and gunky but that’s okay, we’re gonna make it look nice. You’ll get some Web page stuff at the top, and some Web page stuff at the bottom, and your Google Alerts in the middle. They’ll be in a list that looks like this:
Highlight and copy just the list of Google Alerts.
Give Your List a Scrub, Part One: Review, Remove, and Possibly Add
Paste the list of your Google Alerts into the text editor of your choice. If you have a lot, you might need to go through them and remove anything you don’t want to reproduce in Google Alerts. In my case I took out several marginal alerts and a few I wanted to tweak with Bing’s syntax before I tried them. If you only have a few Google Alerts you won’t have to do a thorough once-over, but give your list a quick glance and see if there’s anything you want to adjust or even alerts you want to add (just put them at the end of your list, with a new line for each one.)
Give Your List a Scrub, Part Two: Remove Formatting, Alphabetize, and Add Line Breaks
After you’ve removed all Google Alerts you don’t want to include and added any you want to keep, go to https://www.textfixer.com/tools/remove-duplicate-lines.php . Paste your list in the top box and choose Alphabetical Sort. (You don’t have to, but it’s easier if you have lots of alerts to review them in alphabetical order.) Click the Remove Duplicate Lines button and you’ll get a cleaned up, alphabetized list of your Google Alerts. Copy that list.
You’re not quite done with your list. If you tried to copy it to Google Sheets the way it is, you’d get all your Google Alerts in the same line and that won’t work for making RSS feeds. You need to add line breaks. Lucky for you the TextFixer people have you covered. Go to https://www.textfixer.com/tools/add-line-breaks.php . Copy your list to the top box and choose Convert line breaks to paragraph breaks.
Copy your newly line-break’d list. Now we can get serious.
Make a Google Sheet
Go into Google Docs and create a new blank Google Sheet, then copy your cleaned up, line-break’d list to the first column.
Get rid of those blank lines in about two seconds by clicking Data -> Sort Sheet by Column A, A→Z .
Let’s look at what we have. We have a Google Sheet full of your Google Alerts, alphabetized. Now we’re going to get our Bing News URL, encode our queries, and concatenate the queries and the URLs into RSS feeds. It sounds complicated but it’s easy thanks to Google Sheet functions.
Setting Up the Bing URL
Select the first two lines of the sheet, right-click and choose Insert 2 Above. Your sheet should look like this:
We’re going to use that first row as a staging area for our Bing News URL. Here’s what a basic Bing News search RSS feed looks like, with QUERY taking the place of our actual query.
To make our RSS feeds, we need to be able to combine the beginning of the URL with our Google Alerts query, then add the &format=rss at the end to get it as RSS. To do that we need to split the URL into parts.
Put this part of the URL in cell A1:
And put this part in cell B1:
With the Bing News URL broken up into parts, we’re just about ready to concatenate our RSS feeds. But we need to do one more thing – encode!
Encode your Google Alerts
It’s possible that your Google Alerts are all numbers and letters and don’t have any pesky symbols like ” or ( in them at all. But mine aren’t! When special characters like ” or ( appear in URLs, they can break the URL’s functionality or make the search engine respond in a weird way. We need to make sure that Bing News can read our queries, so we need to encode them.
Go to cell B3 on your spreadsheet and enter =ENCODEURL($A3) . The ENCODEURL part will change the characters in your query to make them more acceptable to a search engine (and also might make them look weird to your eyes.) After you’ve entered it, use the dragging tool on the lower left part of the cell B3 (it’s the blue block in the lower left corner that you see after you click on a cell) to click-and-drag all the way down column B until you’ve generated encoded text for all your Google Alerts. Here’s what mine looks like.
We’ve got our Bing News URL set up, and our queries encoded, so let’s make some RSS feeds!
Make A Bunch of RSS Feeds Instantly and Feel Like a Wizard
Go to cell C3 and enter this: =CONCATENATE($A$1,$B3,$B$1)
This is telling Google Sheets “Take the first part of the Bing News URL, then add my query, then add the last part to make it an RSS feed.” Hit enter and you’ll have an RSS feed in that cell! You can even copy it and open it in your browser, though it won’t be nicely formatted since it’s an RSS feed.
Use the dragging tool again to drag that formula all the way down to the end of your Google Alerts. Here’s what my page looks like with a fresh list of URLs. Now you’ve got all your Google Alerts as Bing News RSS feeds!
But does that mean we have to enter each of the feed URLs separately into an RSS feed reader? No way. I am far too lazy to want to do that. We’re making an OPML file. An OPML file is a file used by RSS readers to import a bunch of feeds at once.
Whip Up an OPML File
Copy that list of URLs. Then take it to https://opml-gen.ovh/ . This is a very basic site: there’s a text box into which you paste your list (remove the example URLs first). Click Generate and it should immediately drop a file in your downloads called subscriptions.xml.
(Warning: this site does no error checking! Make sure you paste in a list of URLs and ONLY a list of URLs or you won’t have a valid OPML file. This tool will create an XML file for anything, as I found out when I typed in some of the lyrics to The Trolley Song.)
Import Your OPML file
Now that you’ve got a bunch of RSS feeds, where should they go?
You may have an RSS feeder you already like. In that case you should be able to find an Import OPML option and add the feeds to your existing list. On the other hand, maybe you want to keep them separate and only use them when Google Alerts is misbehaving. I’m going to walk through adding an OPML list to Feedly ( https://feedly.com/ ), a popular RSS reader.
For the purpose of this example I’m assuming you have a Feedly account. If you don’t, go ahead and set that up. Once you’re logged in, go to https://feedly.com/i/organize/me . That’ll show your feeds and give you a IMPORT OPML button. Click it.
Feedly will ask you to upload a file and after that will start importing your content. As each feed is added it’ll get a checkmark. Even with my bunch of feeds it only took a few minutes.
And voila! Your Google Alerts are now Bing News RSS feeds.
If your Google Alerts are basic and don’t use a lot of special syntax, you should be good to go; you now have an alert system that’ll watch for news even when Google Alerts isn’t cooperative. Unfortunately I use LOTS of syntax in my Google Alerts, so I suspect I’ll have to review and adjust the feeds until I’m getting a flow of information that I like.
But adjusting a flow is a million times better than not having the flow in the first place. And who knows? Bing News might point me to some sources I didn’t know about before.
When you read news stories about search engines and news searching, it seems like all you hear about is Google. But there are other sites to access news (like Bing) and there are definitely other formats to consume the news, like RSS. Take advantage!
Categories: Learning Search
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