Welcome to the Hive Mind; Learn How to Search Twitter

by Chris Allison (@Chris_Allison) CMO of Centsports.

A few days back, for no particular reason, I started thinking more about how to search for useful information on Twitter. Then Twitter announced they were integrating search.twitter.com with the main platform, so the time to learn has never been better. Not only am I interested, but it seems the hive mind has deemed it important as well (you know all this micro-blogging is turning us into a hive mind don’t you?)

The Advanced is Basic

I set out to learn more about the search feature, which is what so many are saying will be where Twitter makes its money, and found all of my advanced theorizing led me to a pretty basic page that held all of the answers. Props to Twitter. If you go to http://search.twitter.com/advanced you can literally see all of the different ways you can search the hive mind.

I’m pretty sure these advanced features aren’t going to be obvious options in the integrated version so it wouldn’t hurt to know how to use these advanced functions by just typing them into the box so you don’t have to revisit these pages every time you want to search. Twitter gives you the information you need to run these searches from your integrated search box at http://search.twitter.com/operators.

The Operators

Instead of detailing every operator you can use, I’ll pick out some of the specifically useful ones you should get comfortable with to make your search experience on Twitter better than it is on Google (that’s right, I said it!) As an aside, Google is a hive mind too, but their data is often collected as a side effect of user action, whereas the majority of Twitter’s “thoughts” are genuinely created and intentionally produced- carrying on.

  • Hashtags
  • Minus sign
  • Near
  • Since
  • Until

Creating and Searching Niche Subjects using Hash tags

The hash tag is probably the most important function of Twitter search, and the most used. The chances are you probably already use the hash tag (#), but if you don’t here is a brief run down. The hash tag enables Twitter users to create searchable subject groups. Simply by adding a phrase to a tweet a user makes it easier for that tweet to be found in a relevant search. An example would be, “I like Pepsi, but I don’t really like this commercial #superbowlads”. Then anyone can search Twitter for #superbowlads and find this Tweet along with any others tagged the same.

Pro: The power of the hash tag is that it creates very specific sets of content. If you want to know what other people think of the superbowl ad that just came on you can find it much easier by searching for the hash tag than by searching for something similar in a normal search engine.

Con: The downside of the hash tag is that if you’re not an especially active twerson then it’s likely you won’t know the hash tags for all of the subjects you are interested in searching; however, if you stay plugged in you can see the hash tag groups forming right before your eyes- heck, why not create your own!

Making Your Search Clearer using Minus Sign:

The minus sign is very simple, but useful. If you have a search that you know will probably bring up irrelevant results you can filter out the irrelevant results by using the minus sign. The example that Twitter uses is if you search for beer then you might want to include –root, to prevent results about root beer from coming up.

Depending on what you are looking for a search for “beer” probably isn’t a very good search. The power of searching Twitter is plugging into the hive mind and finding real time thoughts and news. Thus, searching Twitter for beer or even “root beer” (quotations tells the search engine to only search for that exact phrase) is a waste of time- you’ll get lots of results like “mmm I could use a beer right now” and “damn that beer was good”. When searching Twitter, try to be as specific as possible, that is where its strength lies. In this scenario try searching for the exact company or type of beer you are interested in.

Finding New Friends using Near:

This is where Twitter really shines. It’s also the beginning of the operators I didn’t know about before exploring Twitter’s advanced function page. The near function lets you search for tweets coming out of a specific area. There are two very powerful applications of this function.

  1. Find locals
  2. Access the hive mind and see what it’s like to be at an event

I found this particular operator very interesting because I found out there are many more people in my town using Twitter (only about 100,000 people where I live) than I expected. A simple search for near:CollegeStation produced the tweets of many locals. I’ve been thinking about hosting a tweetup, and now that I realize there are more people tweeting out there, maybe I should! One thing to note: don’t put a space after the colon, and if the city name is two words make it one.

The other use of the near function is to see what’s going on at an event, or what it feels like to be there in person. I’ll go into more depth on this a little further down, but suffice to say if you want tweets from people at the inauguration rather than just news from people watching it then adding “near:washingtondc” could be very useful.

Searching Time Periods using Since and Until:

These functions let you narrow down your search to a specific timeline. If Twitter had been around for 9/11 then you might want to search near:NYC since:2001-09-11 until:2001-09-12 if you were looking for local and real time tweets, or add since:2008-01-01 to the search if you were looking for a more broad retrospective view of what people think about the event now. The options for personal interest and scientific research are both wide open with these functions. The hive mind is a powerful a thing.

Putting It All Together:

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about what you can do with Twitter search. Here is an example of putting it all together using #inauguration, near:collegestation , since:2009-01-20, until:2009-01-20.

You can see the results here.

Note: Twitter’s servers went all crazy eyed when I did this search near Washington DC, my guess is they’re just overloaded. I went ahead and submitted a note via their help form so hopefully they’ll look into it. Either way, the power of the search remains the same; it’s only a matter of Twitter getting their servers more prepared for larger searches; when they do, you’ll be ready.

Happy searching, welcome to the hive mind.


  • March 8, 2009

    It is amazing how many businesses have grown around Twitter. I just hope that Twitter does not die. :) The way people are sounding, though, I think that Twitter will just keep on growing.


  • March 8, 2009

    I wish I’d known this about 15 minutes ago. I was searching “golf” and found several postings of “disc golf” and “golf properties.” Using the minus sign will help narrow my search.

    Great info and very much appreciated.

  • March 8, 2009

    Excellent tips! I did not know about some of these operators, and I do think I’ll be doing more and more searching on Twitter and less and less on Google. Thanks!

  • March 8, 2009

    It’s very cool how Twitter search is evolving.

    With Twitters ability to house current topics faster than any other search engines online, Twitter search just may be a replacement for Google one day.

    After all, the creators used to work at Google.

  • March 8, 2009

    This is very relevant and interesting information for me as I learn what twitter is all about.
    Very useful. I’ll be back.

  • March 8, 2009

    I just discovered the operators about a week ago. Things like the ?, OR, and the links operators are some of my favorites. They really let me monitor my industry and respond to people.

  • March 8, 2009

    Thanks for an excellent post. These are great search tips that show the full functionality of Twitter search. Twitter search is now even better, and I hope that it will become even better in the future.

    Bill Romanos
    Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

  • March 8, 2009

    This is a great and long overdue article and like you Chris I really hope ‘the masses’ start to really get stuck into Twitter search when the site makes the service more central.

    However, I have my concerns over the current usefulness of some aspects of it, notably the geocoding (via the near: search). It seems to be incredibly USA-biased (as you might expect) and doesn’t seem to give you any options if your town has a common name, i.e., near:Hastings for me (which is Hastings, East Sussex, UK) searches only Hastings in Minnesota! I didn’t even know there *was* a Hastings in Minnesota, but as famous and historical as Hastings, UK, it most definitely ain’t. :)

    Moreover, when I try to search for my county of towns nearby it doesn’t know them at all. It doesn’t recognise UK postcodes either, it appears. So, while it might be great for folks Stateside right now, it seems pretty limited for those of us on the other side of the pond.

    Otherwise, as said a good post, and I’ll be re-Tweeting. :)

  • March 8, 2009

    Scratch that: HastingsUK produces the desired results. Very useful indeed. I salute you, sir.

  • March 8, 2009

    I like this as I occasionally want to thins stuff out and hadn’t thought of using the minus operator with my Twitter searches. Right now my favorite search to use is http:// because it allows me to narrow down tweets to just those with hyperlinks it’s almost like having my own recommendation system.


  • March 8, 2009


    yeah, the geocoding (in my opinion) has simultaneously the most problems and the most potential. It will be really interesting to see how effectively Twitter grows and tweaks it.

  • March 8, 2009

    I think it’s worth noting that twitter (rather appropriately) only allows you to submit search queries of 140 characters or less.

    That can put a limit on those OR statements.

  • March 8, 2009

    The only one of those I was aware of is the hash tag, so thanks for the info! I have not delved into searching on Twitter much and this will help when I finally take the time to do it.

  • March 8, 2009
    Umesh Dhingra

    Excellent write up and really wellresearched , cheers

  • March 8, 2009

    Thanks, Chris, I’m off to try out some of the functions!

  • March 9, 2009

    Thanks for the heads up. I was sitting here thinking of how I could incorporate Twitter into my Hiveminds domains. It was ironic that this showed up at dg just when I needed it.

  • March 9, 2009
    Vargel Litmus

    I have found this to be totally a waste of time. My searches turn up nothing but inane blatherings of inane wannabees.

  • March 9, 2009

    Katharine, you’re absolutely right. I should have noted the character limit, it definitely does limit some of the longer searches more detailed searches.

  • March 9, 2009
    David Millington

    There is a site called Tweetizen (http://www.tweetizen.com) that lets you create saved groups out of searches. It’s actually pretty handy, I wonder if Twitter will ever do anything like this.

  • March 9, 2009

    Coming from a Search background, I can tell you that Twitter Search is getting better all the time but still has a way to go before nailing (cracking the relevancy beyond matching and last in first out would be that).

    I was included in the trial of the integrated Search and have found that actually started to drive me back to using the standard Twitter UI. One issue there is that the page was always waiting for Google Analytics to kick in before it would resolve. Maybe Twitter need to buy/build some Analytics rather than default to Google there.

    One operator you forget, that I found useful is from:

    This filters by specific user name, useful if you’re just interested in what a specific user has said about a topic.

    So: beer – root from:simon_baptist

  • March 9, 2009

    Good blog post, thanks! Last week Kristoffer published a similar blog post but to our microblog search that contain identi.ca, jaiku and many more microblog platforms.

    Just a tip… http://blog.twingly.com/2009/02/25/some-useful-microblog-search-tips/

  • March 10, 2009

    Thank you. This was so helpful and informative — it answered a lot of questions I’ve had for quite some time.

  • March 10, 2009

    I’ve been arguing for a search feature limited to the people that you follow (or the people that they follow, or the people that follow you— but that’s extra). I think it would be very useful, especially to filter out interesting people who live-twit from a not relevant conference.

  • March 10, 2009

    This is a very important issue, and so is what I call “search literacy” in general. One thing worth mentioning is that the Twitter user community should be aware that Twitter might at any point cut off the back-wards reach of your result sets, currently during heavy daytime loads it’s at most about 7 days back. This can present real problems for your own research/archiving purposes.

    Plus Twitter may decide in the future to make long-range backward data mining a “for pay” feature that large corporate marketing agencies, etc. may pay them a lot of money for (obviously not if they could access everything for free through Search.twitter.com). Only time will tell, though I think it is definitely important for the community to be aware of these possible issues.

    Just for completeness, I’d add the following additional techniques/operators:

    ” ” – using quotations to get phrases

    OR – using or operator to get Tweets with different keywords (AND can be used but is automatic without quotes being used)

    filter:links – will seek out tweets containing 1 or more links only; nearly the same can be accomplished by searching for “http://”, though that will miss the few live links that Twitter recognizes from “www.domain. …” type links

    to:username – both these can be very useful to query over your own tweetstream by topic/keyword, e.g. to find old tweets that you know you wrote (containing certain link resources, etc.) As long as Twitter keeps back-data fully available in Search, you can use Twitter as a natural form of personal bookmarking this way. Nearly all the “tags” will be applied without extra work, simply as part of your tweets…

    Searching for #hashtags is more of a question of detecting additional intentionality about the tweets’ author(s), since the keyword will show up without the specific # sign in the search (unless the hashtag is a unique abbreviation). They went through the trouble of using the # symbol and/or create a hashtag to highlight something.

    Here is a great way to cut down on overly large result sets, taking out most chatter and duplication:

    “keywords filter:links -RT”

    Obviously that may not be what you want for brand feedback type research, etc. but I use it e.g. for the keyword “psychology”, an pipe that RSS feed into a receptacle. Remember, Twitter may at some point take the back data away…

  • March 10, 2009

    Well its really great that time to time to time twitter its geving a lot of power to user but to the other side the bad thing its that, that power could be use by spamer to full you of information thta you dont need.

    I really hope that twiiter dont get spoild by doze caind of use dam spamer whit the power twitter give them and us. Gract post.

  • March 10, 2009

    Don’t worry about searching twitter!! This site does the work for you! Location based social media http://streetmavens.com

  • March 10, 2009

    Great post Chris and thanks for the tip ! Funny enought I have also just posted about Twitter search and how it has great potential as a productivity tool!


    Definitely a space to watch for !

  • March 11, 2009

    This was an awesome article. The only problem or question I have with Twitter Search: the API limits you to only approximately the last four months of tweets. Is there a means to set the Wayback Machine to some further-distant time? I’d love to be able to search for stuff dating back to perhaps even a year.

  • March 11, 2009


    I don’t think there is a way to set the twitter time machine further back; however, if we protest enough Twitter might be forced to let us :)

  • April 5, 2009
    Kate - CO

    TSL – Actually, 4 months is a very old number. The time window is shrinking by 3 days or more every day (as more and more tweets are sent). You currently can’t search beyond Feb 27 and within the week the search window will be less than a month. Anyone know if twitter is planning on lifting the # of messages stored for searching (and therefore extend the window for past dates)?

  • April 30, 2009

    I am very new( yesterday) to twitter .I am reading Joel Comm’s book Twitter Power and trying to learn about twitter . I am also working on my settings and background right now. I will be using twitter mostly for business. I am an executive recruiter. My question is about the search power of twitter. If one was trying to find a recruiter to follow and you typed in recruiter in the find people area does this pull up people who have the word in their username or name ? or does it also search people’s profile? I read somewhere that I should make my bio very keyword rich for my occupation. But are we capable of searching people’s bios at this time?I need help deciding which words to use where so as to allow people to find me( I know I have to start following but haven’t gotten to that yet. Baby steps…

  • April 30, 2009

    Hi Ellen,

    If you search using Twitter’s search engine at http://search.twitter.com then what you will be searching through is people’s conversations. At this time there is not a way to search for keywords in people’s bio; however using some of the functions I listed in the post above you can search through conversations coming from certain areas or times. I think you’ll find it useful to search through conversations related to recruiting. If you have any questions shoot me an e-mail and I can help you out more in depth.


    Chris Allison

  • June 2, 2009

    Does anyone know if there’s a way to search between specific times, not just days?

  • July 17, 2009

    I’m trying to search Twitter for research purposes regarding my thesis on the Iranian election and it will not go back further than this week. Is this permanent?

  • July 18, 2009

    Hi Catherine,

    Unfortunately it may very well be. I made a post here on Twitip recently that addressed this fact. As the amount of information being stored on Twitter’s servers grows larger and larger Twitter Search grows more and more limited in how far back it can search.

    -Chris Allison

  • September 26, 2009

    Thanks for such a wonderfull post,regarding twitter search

  • October 4, 2009

    Twitter’s calendar function doesn’t go back very far. I just tied to do a search starting a two weeks ago and received this error: since date or since_id is too old. Not sure why they have a calendar that let’s go back further than a few days if you can’t actually search that far back.

  • January 27, 2010

    Search for relevant followers is really getting difficult now because there are so many marketing tactics are involved with it. Nice info Thank u

  • February 6, 2010

    Just trying to learn how to twitter.

  • February 19, 2010

    Twitter is a hub of marketing tactics and you have to follow the trends of twitter to get success. Join relevent followers and keep update your followers with latest news. You have mentioned such a great tips. Thanks

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