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How to search Twitter

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Among the things that one may think of regarding Twitter is the immense volume of “data” found there. Effective use of Twitter’s search features can help one easily get past the “volume” problem to find useful and relevant information. The various Twitter search features are available by three means: the search box found at the top of Twitter pages, the Advanced Search page, and the content narrowing menu and Search Filters box found on search results pages (which is also the place where the link to the Advanced Search page is found).

The Twitter search box

The search features available in the search box are quite extensive and include Boolean, special terms or “field” qualifiers such as hashtags, and even qualifiers reflecting the nature of the content or “sentiment,” such as “positive attitude.” In terms of Boolean, multiple terms separated only by a space are automatically AND’ed; you can use OR’s, and a minus sign used immediately in front of a term serves as a NOT. You can also use quotation marks for phrases. A special case of the minus (NOT) is –rt, which eliminates re-tweets from your results.

One can search by who sent the tweet using the from: prefix (from:JohnSmith). To search for replies that were sent to a specific account, use the to: prefix (to:ranhock).

A very simple search feature that is perhaps the easiest way to achieve higher relevance of results is using a hashtag. With Twitter search, simply search for the hashtag itself, including the hash symbol (#TheresaMay). But what if you don’t know what hashtag is being used for a particular topic? Then, as you type your term(s) in the search, look at the suggestions that appear beneath the search box. If there are any commonly used hashtags for the topic, those will appear among the suggestions. An equally simple search feature is the use of the @ to identify tweets that mention a specific person (@JohnSmith).

Twitter also provides search syntax for both time and place. For time, you can search using since: and until:. For example, to get tweets mentioning police and Philadelphia that were sent between Feb. 1, 2019, and Feb. 5, 2019, you would search for: philadelphia police since: 2019-02-01 until: 2019-02-05.

To do a geographic search, Twitter offers two options: using the near: and within: prefixes or using the geocode: prefix. For the former, to find tweets from the Philadelphia area that mention the word “museum,” you can search for museum near:Philadelphia within:5mi. (For users from countries that use a more sensible measurement system, km can also be used.) For greater precision, the geocode: prefix seems to be much more effective than near: and within:; for example, for mentions of “charity” in the Jupiter, Fla., area, you would search for charity geocode:26.9267878,-80.1533571,5mi. (Google Maps is an easy source for latitude and longitude, but though it no longer displays lat/long on the maps themselves, you can see it and copy it from within the URL of Google Maps search results pages.)

Of special interest for tracking companies or brands/products, etc., Twitter provides search qualifiers for “sentiment.” However, Twitter does not determine sentiment by means of a natural language processing algorithm applied to the text of the message. Instead, in Twitter you search for a positive sentiment by inserting :) in your search and, for a negative sentiment, :(. What you will retrieve will be tweets in which the senders themselves entered those conventional emoticons in their tweet.

Twitter has three other content-related qualifiers. You can identify tweets that ask a question by simply putting a question mark, preceded by a space, in your search statement. You can specify tweets containing links to URLs with filter:links and can specify tweets in a specific language with lang:en (using ISO standard two-letter language codes).

Advanced search page

If you don’t want to deal with the various special features available in the search box, Twitter provides an Advanced Search option that will accomplish, very easily, some of the same results. There are two ways to get to Advanced Search. You can do any search, then look in the Search Filters box in the panel on the left of search results pages, or you can go directly to twitter.com/search-advanced.

On the Advanced Search page, you see, under the first section (Words), boxes for simplified Boolean (All of the words, Any of these words, and None of these words), plus a box for This exact phrase. You also see a box for entering hashtags and a pull-down window for narrowing to a specific language. In the People section of the form, there are boxes for searching by sender, for finding replies that were sent by a particular user, and for tweets mentioning a particular user. For all of these, include the @ in front of the user name.

Filtering results

Whether you search from the search box or the Advanced Search page, after doing a search, on results pages you are shown two ways to further refine your results. At the top of results pages is a menu allowing you to narrow by Top, Latest, People, Photos, Videos, News, or Broadcasts. On the left of pages, in the Search Filters box, in the first option presented, you can select to see tweets from anyone (the default) or from people you follow; Anywhere or Near you; by language; and you can have the “quality filter” on or off.

One other feature should be mentioned: saving searches. Searches are saved by clicking the three-dot menu in the upper-right of results pages, then clicking Save this search. Thereafter, your saved searches appear as “suggestions” when you use the search box.

This article was adapted from an article in The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, a newsletter published by Information Today, Inc. For more information, visit www.infotoday.com.

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