Exploit twitter for searches as well as nattering

I have a hard time separating twitter from my memory of it as a great place for midnight nattering. It’s a couple of years since it was that for me and my sense is that the feel of the place has changed. It’s definitely added more tools for finding news and information, I don’t know if that’s why it’s not my favourite spot at the bar any more.

But if it’s a good tool, let’s use it. First, scriptwriter and novelist Jason Arnopp has some key suggestions in his Five Things You May Not Know About Twitter:

If you start a tweet with a username, then only people who follow you both will see it. I still see relatively seasoned Twitter users do this.

For instance, if I tweet the following…

@johnhiggs’ book on The KLF is mind-blowing – read it now!

… then only people who follow both me and @johnhiggs will see it. Which is a waste.

In case this confuses you, think of it in terms of tweeting directly at @johnhiggs, rather than tweeting about him. In the former case, it’s generally well known that only people who follow you both can see the tweet. But when you’re tweeting about someone, it seems like a whole other situation. To Twitter, it isn’t. That tends to be why you often see tweets starting with a full-stop, followed by a username – it starts the tweet with a buffer before the username, so Twitter doesn’t misunderstand and shows all your followers the tweet, just like you want it to, you attention-hungry, power-crazed MONSTER.

Incidentally, that full-stop isn’t some kind of specific code – it’s just the most-used buffer symbol. You could start with a ‘&’ or a ‘$’, but it might well look more obtrusive.

Five Things You May Not Know About Twitter – Jason Arnopp, INT. JASON ARNOPP’S MIND – DAY/NIGHT (27 June 2014)

The full piece has four more like that.

But now Lifehacker steps up with an article that’s like an old Open University maths show: you start off thinking this is easy, this is obvious, everyone knows th – pardon? This was the example of a twitter search that gave me pause, made me do a double take and is the reason I’m telling you about it:

Operator: near:NYC within:15mi | Finds tweets: sent within 15 miles of “NYC.”

So, you type in “near:NYC within:15mi” and you really do get tweets sent by people who were within 15 miles of Manhattan when they tweeted. The trouble is, you wouldn’t know that just from reading the results. Not now, anyway. If something was happening in New York City, this would zoom you in on it.

And the rest of Lifehacker’s examples are equally specific, equally potentially useful. Do read Search Twitter More Efficiently with These Search Operators by Patrick Allen for more.

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