Tool Review:Trackle

Overview

One of my friends on twitter pointed me towards an interesting tool that I’ve spent the last few days playing with. It’s called trackle, and it’s essentially a monitoring service for all things on the web. The application allows you to select from a variety of configurable “tracklets” that will alert you when search results change, or the price of an item drops below a certain level, or when the police report crime a new crime in your neighborhood. There’s a list of just under 100 tracklets on the site right now as of writing

The Good

Trackle seems to fill a gap right now in that it goes one step beyond RSS feeds. It doesn’t just tell you when there’s new content, it tells you when there’s new content that meets a certain criteria. Secondly, through some partnerships it has access to a unique set of data that is difficult to find so easily anywhere else, especially in RSS form (regular crime statistics, home price data. FDA advisories). Additionally, trackle is can feed that data into a variety of sources, including SMS and email. It also features some nice twitter integration for one click sharing with your friends on twitter. The web interface is fairly slick too, allowing for quick browsing of all your recent alerts.

The Bad

For a site that is entirely built on the premise of supplying you with information about changes and updates on the web, you’d think they’d have a way to get your alerts via RSS. However, as far as I can see, there’s no way to export them to a feed I could run through Google Reader, my RSS app of choice. Granted the application is still in beta, so that might be a feature down the road, but long term it could possibly be a deal killer for me.

Also, alot of the tracklets seem like a duplicaiton of what RSS feeds already do. There are headline news tracklets which just pull down the headlines from a series of major news sources, celebrity gossip trackles which monitor changes on celeb gossip sites, both areas where native RSS should work fine.

The Challenges

Beyond the built in problems with trackle, it also suffers from the over-selection bias I talked about recently. On my first pass through I signed up to track about about 25 different things, including all crimes (including traffic stops) performed with a two mile radius of my zip code. The first alert summary email I got from trackle was so long that google actually clipped the message, making me follow a link to view the full text, something I didn’t even know was possible.

screenshot of the gmail message clipped warning
screenshot of the gmail message clipped warn

I’ve paired it down since then, to a more manageable set up, but I still wonder just how relevant I’ll find the information I’ve asked for a month down the line. I could easily see the trackle summary just being another email that gets archived without even being read.

Conclusions

Trackle is a powerful idea, but I’m not sure if the implementation is open enough to be useful. The lack of RSS feeds and the fact that I don’t see any sort of API that programmers could use to develop their own tracklets makes me think that this will be a tool of limited use as the web expands. I’ve sent trackle feedback on both those points, to see if maybe these are features considered for eventual rollout, but just aren’t part of beta. In general, it’s probably worth taking a look at, but I don’t think it’s going to simplify or streamline many people’s lives in it’s current incarnation. Right now there just isn’t anything major that it can do that an RSS feed can’t. There maybe a few people who will find the keyword RSS feed search functions useful, but I’m simply not one of them right now.

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