Geek News: Be aware of what people say about you on Internet

Do you know what people are saying about you on the Internet?

The Internet’s a big place, of course, but it’s still relatively easy to find out what people are saying about you or your company, at least in the news groups, some mailing lists and in Web pages.

That’s right, even though you can’t visit all 30,000 or so news groups, or the tens of millions of Web pages, you can still keep an eye on them from afar.

But first, why care?

Well, what people on the Internet say about you and your company can hurt you, perhaps seriously. For instance, I decided to find out what people are saying about a Loveland company, Colorado Memory Systems (now part of Hewlett-Packard Co.). So I did a little search – I’ll explain how in a moment – and found about 200 news group messages containing the words Colorado Memory. So far so good. It’s nice to have people talking about you, after all!

But not all of what was being said was very nice. In one news group, someone was complaining that Colorado Memory was charging for drivers for their products: “Beware Colorado/Hewlett Packard Tape drives” was the subject line. “Imagine being asked to pay for something that should be included in the purchase price” was the complaint.

In another news group, someone complained about a Colorado Memory tape drive: “If I ever get through a backup procedure without any one of 10 different error messages,” he said, “I will be totally amazed. Is this piece of hardware really that complicated, or am I snake bit?”

Now, I noticed a strange absence of messages from people working for Colorado Memory; plenty of people talking about Colorado Memory, but not many talking for them. Surely a company should be watching out for this sort of thing, intercepting public-relations problems before they spread too far.

These bad messages can be viewed by millions of people, and they’ll remain available in the news group archives for years to come. Colorado Memory has a technical-support team, but I suspect that they stay close to home. Why aren’t they out there on the Internet, answering people’s questions in the news groups and mailing lists?

It’s really not hard for a company to keep an eye on what’s being said.

The Internet’s search engines are so good these days, there’s such a huge amount of information being stored and indexed, that companies can search very quickly and easily.

If you want to find out what’s being said about your company, begin by figuring out a few search terms. Write down your company’s name, its product names, its Internet domain name, and even the names of the company’s principals if they’re well-known. Then begin your search.

A good place to start is DejaNews (www.dejanews.com). You can search at this site in the same way you’d search with a Web search engine, the only difference being that instead of searching for Web pages, you’re searching a database of news group messages.

Although you’re searching through around 100 million messages in 15,000 news groups, DejaNews is remarkably fast. In most cases, you’ll see a list of matching messages within a few seconds, and can then click on an entry to read the message. If you want to follow the message “thread” – to see if anyone responded to the message you’re reading – you can click on the message title to do so.

Another good place to search is Reference.com (www.reference.com). This place allows you to search thousands of news groups and mailing lists, and they’re planning to add Web forums, too (discussion groups that are run through Web sites).

They have a very nice additional feature, too; you can set up a search, then get Reference.com to run the search for you periodically.

How about Web pages? To find out what people are saying about you in their Web pages, you need a search engine that indexes entire Web pages, not just titles and keywords. So you really need AltaVista (http://www.altavista.digital.com/).

You also can search AltaVista for your own Web site’s domain name. That way you can quickly find who is linking from their Web site to yours. I searched for http://www.dvorak.com (the domain owned by Dvorak Development and Publishing, a Louisville firm), and found around 200 Web pages that contained the link.

There are millions of people talking on the Internet, and some of them may be talking about your products. Don’t you think you should know what they’re saying? Well, there’s no longer any excuse for not knowing, so spend a little while at these search sites and listen in.

Peter Kent is the author of Discover Microsoft FrontPage (IDG). He can be contacted at geek@arundel.com.