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Managing the Chaos of Twitter: Real-time Search

Posted on | June 23, 2009 | 3 Comments

scooplerThe more you get into Twitter, presumably the more people you follow. This quickly becomes a scaling problem as hundreds, if not thousands of messages can stream through your feed throughout a given day. If you’re like most people, you may check Twitter once a day. You see the top few tweets but to go through all the ones you’ve missed is untenable. What have you missed? And maybe more importantly as Twitter becomes a handy breaking-news channel, what’s going on in the world outside the people you’re following? What’s the latest (literally the latest) on the election protests in Iran?

This has been my frustration lately, but I’ve found a partial answer in real-time search. Techcrunch’s Michael Arrington blogged about it earlier this spring (It’s Time to Start Thinking of Twitter as a Search Engine). There are upwards of a dozen real-time search engines designed to capture posts, Tweets and status updates as they roll in. Virtually all of them allow you to type in search terms and most of them highlight trending topics. This is how I heard about the DC Metro train crash this evening. I watched the feed for a while on Collecta as it scrolled up my screen. One post was from Twitpics, posted by a man who walked to the scene of the crash and took some photos. Real-time photo journalism.

The San Francisco Chronicle this morning had a solid overview of real-time search engines with links to 10 of them. Rob Garner, writing on MediaPost, suggested that it’s time for Google to buy Twitter for a real-time search play.

Play around with some of them to see what you like. Some focus just on Twitter; others will pull real-time posts from numerous microblog sites and multiple media. Some have nice dashboards; others not so. Some return spammy results gamed to take advantage of trending search terms–a problem that may turn out to be a major problem here. Some allow you to toggle results such that they appear on your screen with machine-gun rapidity because so many millions of people are posting on the same topic. Mind-boggling.

Even with the ones I like though, I still have a feeling I’m missing something (with real-time search, as with any search, you have to know what you’re looking for). But if you’re interested in finding tools to help you stay on top of the real-time conversations swirling around you, your company or your products, real-time search is a start.

And if you have other strategies to manage the chaos, I’m all ears.

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3 Responses to “Managing the Chaos of Twitter: Real-time Search”

  1. Kerri Hicks
    June 23rd, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    What tool(s) do you use to manage your Twitter use? If you’re just using the web site, I agree, it’s unmanageable. There are some great clients on the Mac (Twitteriffic, Tweetie) and even cross-platform (TweetDeck) that have features built-in to help you manage your tweets, including grouping the folks you follow in (I think) TweetDeck.

    Here’s something I don’t understand, though. If you don’t want to/can’t read a person, why do you follow them? (Not you, Brian, but anyone?)

    I only follow those I can keep up with. If you can’t keep up, either live with missing a bunch, or winnow your list, I guess. There are even ways to put certain people on snooze for a while. It’s like signing up for email lists in the days of yore. So many I would like to participate in, but the volume on some lists makes it impossible.

    And I found out about the DC Metro crash on Twitter, too. 🙂

  2. Brian
    June 23rd, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    I use Tweetdeck and like it very much, but i haven’t grouped people together, which may be a way to manage the chaos by putting people into hierarchies of info needs…
    Still the problem becomes how do you effectively weed through the “mmmm, good burrito” Tweets of the people you’re following? On the other hand, not everyone Tweets everyday; usually just the more involved folks.

    And to you last point, maybe I should winnow my followings down. I tend to follow people as part of my strategy to build audience, but i still have about a 2:1 follower/following ratio at the moment.

    Maybe we all need social media assistants…

  3. Loring Wirbel
    June 23rd, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

    Of course, the argument against using a RT search engine is the same as the argument for continuing to read a general-interest daily paper – you don’t know what you don’t know, so a random survey of tweets may pick up something that a search engine might not catch. Metro train crash, sure. Insightful post on the rise of Fergana Valley insurgents in Kazakhstan, maybe not.

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