It’s easy to miss little gems of information on Twitter, the social networking service that allows users to exchange short messages. Because we all can’t spend hours in front of the service, we miss important messages (or tweets) posted by colleagues, friends and family while we’re away. As the list of people you follow on Twitter grows, the problem becomes more acute: hundreds of messages pass by and flow off the page before you’ve even had a chance to look at them.
Although Twitter applications such as TweetDeck let you filter messages in highly customizable ways, Twitter’s own site can help you manage this information overload. Last July, Twitter bought Summize, a New York-based company comprised of five engineers who focused on nothing but building a great search tool for Twitter. Now, Twitter search can be found at the bottom of your Twitter homepage under “Search,” or, when logged in to Twitter, go to search.twitter.com.
Here are some tips for using Twitter’s search tool, including ways to catch up with tweets you missed, and find tweets that you want to read again.
1. Keyword Tricks
After you arrive at Twitter’s search tool, click on the “advanced search” link that appears just below the main search bar. The first box on the advanced Twitter search is for “Words.” Here, you’ll find a variety of options for finding the term you need, while accounting for the fact that people might not type their Tweets to be perfectly search friendly.
For instance, if you type iPhone 3.0 into the “All of the These Words” search bar, it will return results where someone tweeted not only “iPhone 3.0,” but also tweets that mention the “ iphone software upgrade (3.0.). In other words, it improves the chances you’ll find information on the 3.0 version of the iPhone even if 3.0 and “iPhone” don’t appear next to each other. If you only want those terms directly next to each other as you type them, then use the “exact phrase” search bar.
You can also search within a “hashtag.” The Twitter community organically uses a Hashtag (#) in front of frequently used terms to help categorize them for searches and filtering. So when talking about an iPod, people might also reference “#Apple.” If you’re looking for company specific news that’s happened recently or what’s being said about a company’s product, the hashtags can be very helpful. ReadWriteWeb also has this interesting write-up on Hashtags that helps summarize their usefulness.
Looking for a Tweet not in English? Twitter search has a pull down menu here with other options, so search away from Arabic to Thai.
Shortcut: Want to skip the advanced search?
If you want to skip using the “advanced search” but search with the same kind of keyword specificity, here are some shortcuts (they work a lot like Google search does).
Type: giants game. Twitter will search for: all tweets that contain “giants” and “game” in them.
Type: “giants game”. Twitter will search for: the specific term “giants game.”
Type: giants OR game. Twitter will search for: any tweet that has either “giants” or “game” appear in it.
Type: giants -New York. Twitter will search for: any tweet with the term “giants” without references to New York, so this would be helpful if you followed the baseball team from San Francisco but not the football team in New York.
2. People Search Skills
Twitter search also allows you to catch up on tweets from your favorite people. On Twitter, a person’s username on the service appears with the @ symbol in front of it. It’s usually more effective to search for someone using a Twitter handle than using the person’s actual name (sometimes those two items are conveniently the same, however).
Twitter’s people search lets you search for tweets from a person, to a person, or referencing a person. When you use the search bars in the advanced search feature, you don’t need to put the @ sign in front of the person’s name.
A Tweet “to” a person will be accounted for if someone mentioned that person’s name as the very first word of their message. A mere “reference” means the name could appear anywhere in the tweet.
Here are some shortcuts if you want to get similar functions from people search from the main Twitter search bar.
Type: @lancearmstrong. Twitter will search for: tweets referencing Lance Armstrong Twitter handle.
Type: from:lancearmstrong. Twitter will search for: tweets from Lance Armstrong.
Type: to:lancearmstrong. Twitter will search for: all tweets directed at LanceArmstrong (messages that put his name at the front of the tweet).
3. Zero in on a Location (Places)
The Twitter audience is global, so sometimes it’s helpful to know who tweeted a certain topic in your geographic area. You can type in a location such as “Boston” and then search as far away as a thousand miles or as close as one mile. This information is gleaned from the geographic information that people feed into their Twitter profiles.
Shortcut location search
Want to see what’s happening from local area Twitter users?
Type: “giants game” near “San Francisco.” Twitter will search for: people in the San Francisco area who are tweeting about the Giants game.
Type: near:Boston within:10 miles. Twitter will search for: all tweets done within 10 miles of Boston.
4. Utilize Dates in Search
This is especially important within the Twitter community, because people post so many short messages during the course of their Twitter lives. Knowing that you wanted to reread a Tweet you sent yesterday can help narrow your search substantially compared to sieving through months of messages. When you click on the date bar, a simple drop down menu appears for you to select the dates in which you’d like to search for a message.
5. Search Shared Links
While Twitter is not a social bookmarking service, sharing links is definitely one of the most popular activities. People share links to articles, new products or websites, and people “retweet” links too (meaning, they share again, with their own followers).
This can be especially helpful if you remember a Twitter friend sharing a link with you from a previous day. If you forgot to bookmark it, you could go to Twitter and type that person’s name into the “people” search, a key term into the keywords search, and check the link box to say you only want to return a tweet where the link was included. Add the aforementioned date search (if you remember) and you’ll improve your chances of finding it.
6. Use Attitudes in Search
One of the more interesting features that Twitter searchers can tap into falls under the “attitudes” section. You can search for tweets that appear negative or positive in tone. This one is especially helpful for looking at product reviews.
So if you type iPhone into the search field, and check off the tweet “negative in tone,” you might see a tweet that says, “New York Times iPhone app crashes EVERY SINGLE TIME I try to open an article.”
Shortcut: If you want to check attitudes without visiting the advanced search page, simply put a :) or a :( after the search term. So, for positive iPhone reviews, type: iPhone :)
Other stories by C.G. Lynch © 2008 CXO Media Inc.