I have long said that Twitter’s excellent advanced search is one of the most valuable tools for journalists today.
It is the superiority of Twitter’s search that makes it a more useful tool than Facebook for journalists, in my view, despite the fact that far more people use Facebook.
Well, Twitter search just got waaaay better with the development of twXplorer. Read Rich Gordon’s piece about twXplorer, then do some searches. I’ve just played with it a little and I’m really pleased and amazed.
What twXplorer does is analyze the results of a Twitter search and give you not just the tweets from a search but also patterns in those tweets: the terms, hashtags and links that show up most often in your search. And each of those terms, hashtags and links is hyperlinked, so you can click on it to filter just those tweets from your original search. You can also use it to search within a Twitter list.
It’s a great tool for refining searches and drilling down to find the most useful results.
I haven’t used it yet for a breaking news story (it was just launched Monday). But if you have used it this week, I’d love to hear how you used it and whether and how you found it useful — either on a big national story such as the Navy Yard shooting or the Colorado floods or on a local story I haven’t probably heard about. Or if you use it after reading about it here, please report back to me about your experience.
Update: My first Twitter responses:
@stevebuttry We used it yesterday in the Ottawa bus/train collision. Helped see what hashtags to use and where the story was being focused.
— David Skok (@dskok) September 19, 2013
— Rich Gordon (@richgor) September 19, 2013
I tried it out in searching for some tweets to use in another post, which I’ll publish shortly, and I found it easy to use and helpful (I’ll note that at the end of the post). I’m going to show it off in a Twitter workshop for the staff of the Fort Morgan Times this afternoon. I’ll report back if they make some helpful use of it immediately.
To help me muse about how helpful it would have been in this week’s big stories (and still could be as they unfold), I did some searches for “Navy Yard,” “Aaron Alexis” and “Boulder flood.” Screen shots are below. Then I drilled down in the Boulder flood search, clicking on “relief.”
The initial search is capped at 500 results. The “relief” filter narrowed the field to 22 new tweets and three retweets. Check out the screen shots below (click on an image to enlarge it).
It’s not as big a story, but I’ve also been interested in the fuss over the Deadspin post on Nebraska Football Coach Bo Pelini’s foul-mouthed rant about Husker fans. Again, I can immediately see how helpful this would be in searching for sources and/or curating social media discussion of a story or issue.
I’ve been a fan of Rich Gordon‘s collaborative innovation classes at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism since I was privileged to work with one of the classes in development of News Mixer in 2008. I’m still disappointed that my colleagues at the Cedar Rapids Gazette (or someone somewhere) didn’t take that great commenting system and run with it. Nearly five years later, it still remains the best commenting approach that I’ve seen. News Mixer (a result of the Crunchberry Project) helped launch the careers of Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, who are helping demonstrate the value of computer programming skills to journalism.
Well, it appears that Rich has another batch of brilliant students. His post explains the collaboration:
The first version of twXplorer was built by two undergraduate computer science students (Jeanette Huang and Allen Zeng) and journalism master’s student Miguel Huerta. They formed one of eight teams in the most recent of our “collaborative innovation” classes, which are a great platform to test new software ideas, to generate creative solutions and to involve students in the development of new tools for journalists, publishers and media consumers.
“It was one of the most successful projects in the spring class,” Birnbaum said. “We could immediately see the value for journalists and other users, and it was clear that the Knight Lab could launch it for public use in a reasonable time frame.”
Working with Larry and me, Knight Lab developer Jennifer Wilson built the new version of twXplorer this summer, with help from the Lab’s design/research fellow Jessica Soberman (MSJ 2013) and art director Aaron Salmon.
As with any great tool, I’m sure twXplorer will add more features as journalists use it and provide feedback and as the developers think of other uses.
Three features I would love to see (if they’re already there, please help me find them and I’ll update):
- Ability to use location search.
- Ability to search within a particular date or time window.
- Ability to add tweets from the search to my Storypad for Storify.
And those suggestions aren’t complaints. I can already see it’s a terrific tool. And it’s making me think about what else might be possible.