The volume of comments can make Twitter seem like the world's biggest echo chamber, but there's good information to be had — if you know how to do the digging. Improve your Twitter search skills by using its advanced search operators.
We've made the point here before that Twitter can be a very useful resource even if you never post anything on it yourself. Foremost amongst those is the ability to do real-time search. While Google has been working steadily on improving its own performance in this area, Twitter is still a key resource to see what people are talking about right now.
Plugging in a search term into Twitter's search box will instantly let you see what everyone is saying on that topic. If it's a much-discussed topic (such as a major sporting event), however, you'll be overwhelmed with results.
Just as you can improve a Google search with various parameters, you can also narrow down Twitter results using a series of search operators. Twitter doesn't heavily promote this feature, but you can access it simply by adding the relevant operators and keywords to your search. (There's also a search form if you find the operators approach too overwhelming, but in practice using the operators is much faster.)
Like virtually any search site, you can use double quotes to enclose phrases you want searched exactly, and a minus sign to exclude particular terms or operators. Twitter has a pretty comprehensive guide to its search operators, but these are the ones you're likely to find most useful. Note that like Twitter itself, search performance can be variable, especially with older tweets.
- from:twittername and to:twittername Use to search for posts from or to a particular user. While you can always access any individual's stream by visiting twitter.com/twittername, searching can be simpler for prolific tweeters. If you know when the message was sent, you can add parameters since:YYYY-MM-DD or until:YYYY-MM-DD
- near:place Identifies tweets sent from a particular location — handy if you want to find other people tweeting when you're visiting an unfamiliar city.
- ? Using a standalone question mark identifies posts which Twitter thinks are questions. This can be useful if you want to find (for example) people hunting down solutions to a tech niggle — once you find a similar question, check that person's page to see if they've received any replies.
- filter:links Adding this will identify any tweets which contain links. It's sometimes more useful to use -filter:links and exclude posts with links, if you're seeking commentary rather than just retweets of blog posts on the topic du jour.
Got any other useful Twitter search techniques? Share them in the comments.
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