twitter-searchFor many people, myself included, Twitter has become the number one means of finding new links and information in my field. Though social news sites such as Digg and Reddit have a great deal of interesting articles, not every story of potential interest makes it to the various front pages. Even blog searches, such as Technorati and Google BlogSearch have lost much of their effectiveness due to spam and poor indexing.

However, Twitter has proved to be a great tool for finding links and getting news in my field. Though Twitter does suffer from spammers, the number of relevant links and posts they put out are still easily dwarfed by the number of quality links provided by humans.

By using Twitter search correctly, not only can you keep on top of information in your field, but you’ll find others who are talking about the same things you are and, if you want to, can begin following them, helping to grow your network.

Fortunately, using Twitter search is extremely simple if one knows the right commands.

The Basics

rss-highlightFor the most part, Twitter search works the same as Google or any other search engine, you simply plugin the term you want to search for and Twitter will locate all of the tweets that contain that keyword. If you want to search for a short phrase, you can place it between quotes.

But what makes Twitter’s search more powerful is that, by clicking the RSS button in the upper-right hand corner of every result page, you can subscribe to the results in your feed reader. This means that you’ll be updated instantly.

Though many Twitter clients, such as Tweetdeck, mimic this function, having the search in your RSS reader preserves the searches, allowing you to go through them at your leisure. This method also doesn’t take away from your Twitter API limit, allowing you to save more accesses for other things.

Do be warned though that Twitter search feeds can be very active. One that I have for the term “copyright” produces many 100s of articles per day. Though it is easy to scroll through the results since they are all less than 140 characters, it’s easy to see how such a feed can inflate your RSS “unread” count.

Advanced Tricks

Once you’ve mastered subscribing to a few keyword-related Twitter feeds, you’ll probably get pretty good at quickly scrolling through them, finding interesting links and interesting Twitter users. However, the “advanced search” link offers additional tools and search options that can help you refine and get more from your Twitter searches.

  1. Hashtags: Hashtags are are tags used to identify tweets related to a certain conversation such as #TED and #lost, the two most popular right now. You can either use the hashtag feature of the advanced search or just type #tag into a regular Twitter search.
  2. @replies: If you want to know who is @replying you, do not use the to feature in the advanced search but, instead, do a regular Twitter search for @username or use the “referencing” option. The reason is that the “To” feature only tracks tweets that begin with the @ where the search will detect the @reply anywhere in the tweet. You can subscribe to this feed as well, helping you keep track of who is retweeting and replying to you.
  3. Links Filter: Ticking the box to receive only tweets with links does what one would expect, only include tweets that have both the keyword and some kind of URL. Great for those that want to keep track of a busy keyword, but only want to find Web pages and conversation off-Twitter.
  4. Questions: The “Asking a question” adds a “?” to the search term to pick up all of the tweets that are seeking replies. Great for finding Twitter users to follow, @reply or generally reach out to.
  5. Location: The location tool is far from perfect but can be useful to narrow busy search feeds where one has only a local interest. For example, searching for “restaurant” near your city would help keep results out of the feed that were of no interest.

Though all of these Twitter search tricks can be done through a regular search with proper formatting, the advanced search feature makes it easier to correctly format your search and displays all of the options at your disposal.

Conclusions

All in all, Twitter is one of the best tools for keeping on top of relevant news and connecting with new people that share your interests. Even if you don’t use Twitter, it can be a very useful service for finding links and ideas for blog entries.

Since I started using Twitter for keeping up on my blog’s topics, it has produced about a quarter of all my story ideas and nearly all of the links I bookmark. It has proved to be an invaluable tool for keeping up with my areas of interest and has more than made up for the lagging effectiveness of blog search engines.

Though Twitter search is far from perfect, it is easily one of the best tools available…