Google Scholar Alerts

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | 10:00 AM

Ever since we launched Google Scholar, people have asked us to help them keep up with current research. Over the years, we’ve made several improvements to help find recently published articles, including the "Recent articles" mode, a simple interface to limit search to recent years, and, of course, more frequent index updates. As the next step in this endeavor, we have recently added email alerts. Now you can create alerts for queries of your interest. When new articles that match your alert query are added to Google Scholar, we’ll send you an email update with links to these articles.

To create an alert for a query, just do a search on Google Scholar as usual (e.g., [prion protein]) and click on the envelope icon which appears at the top of the search results. This will take you to a page with recent results for your query and alert options (e.g., alert options for [prion protein]). If the query returns results other than ones you were looking for, you can tweak it right there and view updated results. Adding more specific search terms often works, and so does placing full author names and multi-word concepts in quotes (e.g., [“quantum computing”]). Then, click on “Create alert” - and bingo! If you’re logged into Gmail, your alert will be created right away. If you’re not logged in, you’ll need to enter your email address and we’ll send you a verification message with links to confirm or cancel the alert. Any email address will do, you don’t need a Gmail account to receive Google Scholar Alerts. Once you click on the confirmation link, your alert will be created and you’ll start receiving email updates on your query.

To create an alert for articles citing a particular paper, first, find this paper in Google Scholar, then click on the “Cited by” link below the search result, and, finally, click on the envelope icon that appears at the top of the list of citing articles. To get updates when any of your papers are cited, it’s often easiest to set up an alert for all mentions of your name in text, e.g., [“E Witten”] with the quotes. To learn of new publications by your colleagues, try registering alerts for their names with an “author:” operator, such as [author:”S Hawking”]. If these alerts return too many results related to other people with the same name, try adding more specific search terms, such as the names of their co-authors, the name of the university they are associated with, or plain old keywords.

So, what does it take to provide an alerts service for the largest collection of research papers on the planet? Good question. To implement Google Scholar Alerts, we had to solve several tricky problems. First, we had to figure out how to quickly find newly available scholarly articles over the entire web. They can and do appear on a variety of locations - on publisher web sites, in scholarly repositories, on researchers’ web pages. Second, we had to determine which of the newly available articles were recently written or published. This can be difficult since many publishers and universities provide archival articles (which are not new) whereas early presentations of a work, such as preprints (which are indeed new), often have no dates associated with them. Third, we needed to update the index much more frequently. Updating a search service while it is being used by a large number of users is somewhat like changing tires on a car while it is going sixty miles an hour. We now add new articles to Google Scholar twice a week; we plan to further increase this frequency. Finally, we had to develop a query suggestion mechanism to help users construct effective alert queries. Our goal was to help people bridge the gap between finding key articles in a large collection (as they’re doing when they search Google Scholar) and finding relevant articles in the much smaller collection of recently published articles (as they would be doing with alerts).

We hope Google Scholar Alerts will help researchers everywhere keep up with the discoveries made by their colleagues worldwide.

Posted by Anurag Acharya, Distinguished Engineer