Normal people wait until circumstances arouse their curiosity. Then they go looking for answers. They Google it, or use some other search engine or some other means to find answers.
But it takes a special kind of crazy to sign up for, configure, optimize and tweak sites and services that constantly and forever monitor the Internet, and hand-deliver information via e-mail as its published or posted.
Or a special kind of lazy. Setting up automated "bots" to do your searching for you saves enormous amounts of time and effort. You "set it and forget it."
Scratch that. Automated searches are not only sane and actually take a bit of initiative to set up, they're so powerful they can enhance your career, friendships and lifestyle. In fact, you'd have to be crazy or lazy to NOT use automated searches.
Here are the five most powerful services, with some tips on how to get the most out of them.
1) Google Alerts
Google Alerts is the best known info-delivery service. It's great for running the broadest possible searches for information that rarely pops up.
I have News Alerts on the names of everyone I know. When friends or relatives get a promotion, or are quoted in a news story, I'm the first to know (and the first to congratulate people, or whatever). I also track news I'm interested in, such as about emerging technologies, and to follow writers I like, such as myself.
I currently have 273 searches. (Why not? It's free!) When they deliver bogus results, I tweak the search criteria to improve them.
You can find Alerts on the Google News page. Just run a search, then click News Alerts on the lower left. You'll get a "Create a Google Alert" box where you can tweak your search terms, tell what type of search, tell how often to get results and where you can enter your e-mail address.
Yotify is the newest service. It's like Google Alerts, but more precise. After signing in, you create "scouts," which are ongoing searches. You choose search criteria, but also the sites where those searches run. You can pick Craigslist, Shopping.com, YouTube, ESPN, eBay Tickets and many more. Yotify lets you search much more broad criteria within a narrow range of sites.
For example, let's say you're looking for a job. You can set up a running search for your city on Craigslist in the job category, using keywords relevant to your career path. You can set the frequency for daily or hourly. Choose hourly. When a job pops up, you'll get an e-mail with the details and a link.
If you're planning on buying something, you can set up a search that notifies you once the price has dropped to whatever amount you choose.
The most unique kind of search is Yotify's "Ask Friends" feature, which takes searches you've already set up, and asks your friends on either Facebook or Friendfeed to help you find it. So, for example, you can choose Facebook, and in the window that pops up choose that Job search you already set up. It will send a message on Facebook that says "Help me find this" to all your friends.
You can also auto-share your searches with anyone via e-mail.