Twitter and you: Searches and lists

Welcome to the latest in my series aimed at teaching you more about Twitter so that you can use it effectively as a tool in the newsroom. In case you’ve missed any of the past posts, here’s the list:

You can access the two features I'll be discussing today, lists and saved searches, from the tabs located just above your Twitter timeline.

Today, we’re going to talk about searching Twitter and how to organize people on to lists. Both of these will help you better sort through the avalanche of tweets that flow through Twitter every second of every hour of every day.

Searching Twitter

Millions of tweets are created each day by millions of users all around the world. However, to a new Twitter user, the place can seem awfully quiet. After all, you’re not really following that many people yet, so your timeline looks a little deserted. How can you find all this great/interesting/newsworthy stuff?

Notice that at the top of each Twitter page there is a search bar. The fact that Twitter puts this bar above the place where you actually type in the tweets should tell you how important search is to Twitter. Without it, most of Twitter’s users would just be shouting into the ether or hoping word of mouth (word of tweet?) would spread their posts to new readers.

This search bar works like any other search bar on the Web. Just type in any words you’d like to search for. For example, in the following image, you can see that I typed in the word Bozeman.

Twitter immediately returns a list of the most recent tweets containing the terms in your search. In this case, a tweet from our own Ted Sullivan and another from MSU happened to be the most recent results.

You will note that above the search results, there is a button labeled “Save this search.” This is where search can become almost like an bookmark in your Web browser. You can save any search you perform on Twitter and then come back to it later. It will always be updated with the most recent tweets matching your query.

For example, I have three searches saved on my account:

  • #wjchat – a search for the a hashtag for Wired Journalists Chat, a weekly conversation held mainly on Wednesday nights on Twitter
  • #mtleg – a search for the Montana Legislature hashtag that was used by everyone tweeting from the capitol during the most recent session
  • #KDMCmobile – a hashtag for the Knight Digital Media Center mobile journalism workshop I went to in Missoula a few months ago

As you can see, I mostly save searches for hashtags, but you can save a search for anything you want, including tweets posted from a certain geographic area (such as within 50 miles of Bozeman) or tweets in a certain language.

This can be useful if you want to keep track of a certain issue or topic that people are tweeting about but you don’t know or can’t predict who will be writing about it. Checking back on a saved search might also clue you in to people you should be following, people who are tweeting regularly about things you’re reporting on or things you’re interested in personally.

To learn more about how to perform advanced Twitter searches, visit Twitter’s full-fledged search page at search.twitter.com and click on Advanced Search. From there, you can find the list of search operators that will allow you to custom tailor your searches.

Twitter Lists

Lists are one of the most useful and most confusing parts of Twitter. They are useful because they allow you to organize people on Twitter into groups — essentially acting like a filter for the fire hose blast of tweets that your main Twitter timeline can become. Lists are confusing too, because they basically provide a way for you to follow another user without actually “following” them. I’ll explain.

Say you want to create a list of people who tweet about knitting. You’d use what you learned in the search lesson above to find a few people to follow who are tweeting about the subject that interests you. But you’re also following a lot of other people whose tweets appear in your timeline, pushing the knitting tweets down the list and perhaps out of sight before you can read them. How can you improve your chances of seeing those knitting tweets?

Put the knitting tweeters on a list, that’s how. If a saved search is like a bookmark containing an ever-changing gallery of Twitter users, a list is a bookmark that contains the same people all the time.

The image at left, for example, shows what I see when I click on the Lists link in the tabs just above my main timeline on the Twitter website.

This drop-down menu shows all the lists I have created to organize the people I am interested in (the section marked “Lists by you”). It also shows the lists I follow that have been created by other people, as well as a link to a list of lists that include little old me.

Clicking on any of these links takes you to the page for that list, where you will have the option of following that list and, if you are the list’s creator, of managing the list — adding or removing people from it.

Twitter offers the choice of making a list public or private. As you can see by the padlock icon next to the first list on the menu, I have just one private list. That means that only I can see the contents of that list, and no one else can subscribe to it.

OK, by now you should understand what a list is and, basically, where to find the menu of lists on your Twitter.com page. Now, how do you add people to a list?

As an example, l clicked on Ted’s photo in one of his tweets that happened to be showing up in my timeline. (As you know from the previous orientation post, this opens up a little box in the sidebar with more information about what you clicked on.)

This brings up information about Ted’s twitter profile. In the gray bar that contains the big green Following button, you can see that there is another icon on the right side that looks like a silhouette. Clicking on that icon brings up a little menu that includes the option “Add to list.”

Click on the “Add to list” link and Twitter will pop up a small window where you can either choose a list or lists that you’ve created already or choose to create a new list to hold Ted.

If you want to learn even more about lists, feel free to check out the relevant help page on Twitter.com or just ask.

Wrapping up

That’s about all I have for you on searches and lists tonight. The next post will deal with some of the other ways you can interact with Twitter, including apps on your phone, text messaging and third-party programs you install on your computer.

Until then, I would urge you to subscribe to the following two lists on Twitter:

  • Chronicle Tweeps – a list containing all the Twitter users at the Chronicle
  • Newsy – a list of news-related people in Montana with a few national news sources thrown in for good measure
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