Searching Social Media with Topsy

Finding social media messages is a challenge.  This seems to be particularly true when sifting through the information overload that is Twitter, whose own search engine seems perpetually unable to return relevant results.  It was ameliorated by Google and other realtime search, which would let you reach back beyond the last week or two and see relevant messages in the past.  As each of these realtime search tools goes offline, however, it becomes harder to dig into Twitter’s past.

The New York Times’ Gadgetwise blog has a good suggestion in Topsy.  I mentioned Topsy briefly a few months ago but it is worth taking another look at this tool.  Even forgetting the fact that it is a much stronger search engine than Twitter’s own, it has some other features that make it a good draw.

Researchers will like its advanced search template.  You can specifically include or exclude words, and you can search for posts by a particular user or over a particular time frame.

One feature I like is that Topsy recognizes Twitter messages that link to other content.  If you are looking for messages that link to content posted on www.fictionaldomain.com, you can restrict the search to looking just at messages that link to that site.

Topsy also has an Experts search option.  If you are looking for an individual who is knowledgeable on a particular topic, you can search the experts section and it will return Twitter accounts that are frequently cited by other Twitter accounts for that topic.

It’s not exactly a citation index but it can give you some starting points if you are trying to identify expertise.  It is also not necessarily current.  The expert profiles are drawn from Twitter’s information, and you may want to visit a Twitter account profile to verify that the information is current.

Last but not least, Topsy supports RSS feeds for specific topics and experts.

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