It's easy to get obsessed with the super-fast, real-time cycle of online news. But don't forget that the Web is a massive treasure trove of information about any topic. With just a bit of work, you can set up tracking and get regular updates about topics you're passionate about. In this how-to article, we share our tips on topic tracking.
Let's forget the 'S' word for a minute: Social. You just want to track the latest news about a specific topic, so how do you do it? Easy, you set up a Google Alert.
Go to Google News and input your search. As an example, I'll use a topic that I'm particularly interested in: finding a cure for diabetes. At the bottom of the page, you'll see a link to "Create an email alert for [...]".
Select the type of results you'd like and the email delivery frequency.
Interestingly, you can create an alert for "everything" - which includes not just Google News, but Google's all-powerful search index. However you won't see the "Create an email alert for [...]" option on Google.com, you'll have to go to Google News or another of the Google content types.
If you use an RSS Reader or personalized start page (such as Google Reader or My Yahoo!), then you can save the RSS feed for your search there. Look for the little orange RSS icon in the footer of your Google News results page.
If you want a more social approach to topic tracking, Google+ and Twitter are your best bets.
Search for your topic in Google+ (Google's social network, which you get automatically with a Google account). You'll see a red button on the top-right, inviting you to "save this search."
To check on your saved search regularly, go to your Google+ homepage and select the "More" drop-down list in the sub-menu. That displays a list of your Google+ circles and saved searches.
There are some great content options with a Google+ saved search. Click on the drop-down list that by default states "Everything". You can then choose to narrow your search to Google+ posts, from your circles, and more.
The one downside to using Google+ saved searches is that you will need to remember to manually check it, because there is no notification system.
You may not be aware that you can also save a search in Twitter, with or without a hashtag. Go to the Twitter homepage and enter your search query. You'll see a list of the latest tweets that may be relevant (the results are based on keywords). Note that you can also do an advanced search, for example searching for an exact phrase.
Although Twitter makes it obvious how to save your search, it's far less obvious where you find your saved search for later reference. It's not in any of the menus. You have to click inside the search box again to see your list of saved searches. This is very unintuitive, but you'll get used to it.
If you're a regular Twitter user, you probably use at least one of the various desktop or mobile clients - such as TweetDeck for desktop and the official Twitter iPhone or Android app for mobile. Most of these products enable you to access your saved searches (for example, select 'Add Column' in TweetDeck and then 'Search').
You may be wondering if Facebook is of much use for tracking topics. It is, to a degree. You can search on Facebook and you may see some results from people or pages you follow, but there is no mechanism to save your search. You can also subscribe to relevant people and 'like' pages on the topic, as well as subscribe to public topical lists. For more information about using Facebook to track topics, read this separate article.
Niche Communities or Specialist Services
There are lots of smaller, niche communities where you can keep track of your topic. For example, I belong to a diabetes social network called Tu Diabetes. I can track news about potential cures there.
Probably your best bet for niche communities these days is Reddit, which has many sub-communities. For example there's one for Diabetes, which had some useful information in it when I checked today. You can then subscribe to the sub-community and check it as often as you like.
If you have any other suggestions to track topics on the Web, please leave a comment.