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.
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.
- Minus sign
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.
- Find locals
- 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.