Finding Past Tweets

Twitter is a nice conversation tool for quickly asking questions among friends/colleagues, sharing quick bits of information and news stories, and is also especially popular among conference goers.  But what happens when you want to refer back to an old tweet?  Is it easy to find?  Well if the person used a hashtag (a hashtag is a word with the number sign in front of it, like #mla) then you can search specifically for that hashtag.  But that can be complicated after a while because tweets seem to fall off the face of the Twittersphere after a few weeks.  Not all search engines are created equal especially when it comes to finding tweets.  Forget about regular Google that doesn’t work.

David Lee King compiled a list of Twitter specific search engines that can find old tweets.  He was looking for old tweets regarding a question on how people get permission to use things.  His search engine list is organized on how well they performed.  He discovered Topsy, twazzup, and crowdeye found most recent tweet plus others, while many other Twitter search engines (including Twitter itself) found only the most recent tweet or nothing at all.

David’s list is helpful for those finding old tweets.  But while I was researching how to find old tweets, I thought, “You know Google has to have gotten into this mess.  After all the dispaly tweets for ‘real time’ searching.”  Sure enough Google has a Twitter search, but it is in development and it is hidden. 

Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land wrote, All The Old Tweets Are Found: Google Launches Twitter Archive Search describing Google’s Twitter archive service.  According to the article it currently works for tweets posted from Feb 2010-Present, but “soon it will be available for all tweets from March 2006, when Twitter was first launched.”

It is a fairly robust search.  You can search via hashtag or you can search for multiple keywords or phrase.  Search Engine Land also mentions a lot of other ways Google Twitter search can be used for data analysis.  Because it is in experiment mode, I haven’t found a very good way of getting to Google Twitter search other than through this link Search Engine Land provides (which is a search for Obama on Twitter).  But if you can change the search term and get results.  Now if you go to the link you will see highlighted in yellow that “The experiment you’re trying to access is no longer available. Go to experiments overview.”  I am not quite sure what that exactly means, because when I search #medlib I get results as recent as August 16, 2010.  So it appears to be working and it works MUCH better than this Google Custom Twitter Search which is what you will find if you type Google Twitter search in the Google search box.  If you use the Custom Twitter Search with the term #medlib you get the Twitter conversations mixed in with other things mentioning medlibs.

So if you are looking for old tweets I would use either experimental Google Twitter search (but it might not be really current) or I would use David’s three he recommends.

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