Learning Search

Create Super-Focused Twitter Searches — And Follow Them With An RSS Feed

Being able to monitor Twitter in a useful way for links is something I’ve been thinking about (okay, fretting over) for a long time. Nuzzel helps to a certain extent, and I have a couple of columns in TweetDeck that keep an eye out for the more obvious search terms, but for the most part it’s hit and miss. Happily I think I may have resolved this search problem — with the help of someone on Twitter.

Andréa López showed up in my Twitter timeline via, I believe, a retweet. She had posted an excellent thread on Twitter search operators. I knew about most of them but not all. I looked at them, and thought, “Okay, I can make a great search, but how can I monitor it?” Then I found a solution to that as well.

In this article we’ll take a look at some Twitter special search syntax you might not know about that’ll help you create laser-focused searches — and then I’ll show you a tool that lets you save these searches as RSS feeds.

Schooled by Andréa López

Ms. López’ thread about Twitter search filters is available at https://twitter.com/bluechoochoo/status/994281215208259584 . The thread is a little disjointed (as threads get when a lot of people are participating) and I don’t have the space to cover every special search operator here so I’m going to hit some highlights. In the meantime if you want more information on Twitter’s special search syntax, I recommend this article from Sprout Social: https://sproutsocial.com/insights/twitter-search-operators/ . But back to Ms. López. I didn’t know about the following Twitter search syntax.


You search the tweets of only people you follow. As you may have guessed this doesn’t work by itself; you’ve got to add keywords. Let’s look at the results if I did this search:

“Online database” -researchbuzz filter:follows

(I have to exclude researchbuzz as a keyword or I just get a bunch of my own tweets.)

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The first thing you’ll notice is that the leading tweet is from 2009! Have people really not mentioned online databases on Twitter since 2009? No; if you’ll look at the menu bar under the search term, you’ll see that the result listing is set on “Top” instead of “Latest,” which is basically the Twitter version of sorting by relevance instead of sorting by date. On the other hand, if you click on Latest, you’ll learn something else.

screenshot from 2018 05 19 06 29 20

The most recent mention of online database among the people I follow was in January, which might surprise you a little — but did you notice something else? Specifically, that both of these first two results are links to news stories and not Twitter-specific announcements of resources?

I think that’s because of my language choice. For the topics in which I’m interested in, it seems like nouns are a good choice only if I want to find tweeted news stories. If I want to find tweets that are germane to Twitter, I have better luck if I use a verb. Let’s take this search as an example:

(digitized OR digitised) -researchbuzz filter:follows

I’m using the OR operator because I want to get both American digitization announcements and announcements from the UK or anyone else who might use the British spelling. And this does get me more recent results, though not necessarily announcements:

screenshot from 2018 05 19 06 58 46

That worked okay, but what if I want to make sure I’m getting newer resources? Maybe I should try this:

(digitized OR digitised) (new OR newly) -researchbuzz filter:follows

This is better, but I’m sure I’m missing things. And I got a link to a news story again:

screenshot from 2018 05 19 07 03 19

Remember that I’m searching a limited number of Twitter users (A little over 3000) and there’s a limited amount of space they can use to describe what they’re doing. There are also no standards to describe a new resource generally. (They can say it’s new, or newly-digitized, or it’s revealed or launched or whatever.) I am finding that verbs work better than nouns, but experimenting was required. I am impressed with how quickly that one filter got me good results. Let’s look at another one.

List: search only those on a specific Twitter list.

Twitter allows you to curate accounts into lists and follow them that way. If you have a particular interest that you don’t want overwhelming your regular timeline, Twitter Lists are realllly handy.

Valerie Hawkins has created a list of library-, archive-, and museum-specific news and resources at https://twitter.com/librariesval/lists/library-news . The list itself is so targeted I’m going to see if I can get away with searching a very broad term — new. Here’s what that search looks like:

New list:librariesval/library-news

(Note that you have to remove the “lists” part of the URL when you add it to the search query! If you don’t, this search will not work!)

screenshot from 2018 05 19 07 50 29

Okay, that was less than useful. It’s interesting, but not what I’m looking for. While Valerie’s list is very specific, it is not specific enough to let me do a ridiculously-broad keyword search like new. (And to be fair to Valerie, I’m not sure ANY list would be specific enough to do this search.)

Let’s try the digitized/digitised search again:

screenshot from 2018 05 19 07 59 22

Oh yes. Beautiful. PERFECT. Two resources from the last week, both new resource announcements. I give this search result an A+.

Do I dare to try this search again, only with archive?

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That’s not quite as good as the first one (the second result is for a book, not an online resource) but it’s not bad. Pretty solid.

I’m sure you’ve gotten the memo by now but the point is for Twitter searches, even when you’re using special operators to make them as focused as possible, you will need to experiment. And not only with your word choice, with your parts of speech choice. I never considered searching Google for verbs instead of nouns to get better results (though you can bet I am now!) but Twitter is so focused on immediacy it just seems like it’d be worth a try.

Let’s take a look at one more special operator.

Min_faves: and min_retweets:

I lied. Two more special operators. As you might guess these let you specify the number of favorites and retweets an item must have in order to be included in your search results. Now, when you search you should not be looking for the results of a popularity contest. But adding these modifiers will help you filter out spam and find resources that other people found useful enough to favorite / retweet. For the examples below I’m going to stick with favoriting.

Let’s start with

(new OR newly) database:min_faves:5

screenshot from 2018 05 19 08 45 24

This searches all of Twitter, not just lists or people I follow, and, well, it’s not really getting me anywhere. Interesting results but not useful for my purposes.

Let’s go back to that verb example and try this:

(new OR newly) (digitized OR digitised) min_faves:5

screenshot from 2018 05 19 08 46 44

Hey, that’s pretty good! I might have to do some tweaking but I’m getting decent results right off the bat. Which reminds me: I wonder if I can add this search to a search of Valerie Hawkins’ library list?

(new OR newly) blog min_faves:5 list:librariesval/library-news

screenshot from 2018 05 19 09 16 29

This one is definitely a mixed bag. Found me a terrific result right off the bat, but the other ones are just meh.

You will have to do some experimenting with these various syntax, but I find it works well to narrow down Twitter’s data pool. But what do you do once you’ve found a search you really like that gives you great results? Do you just search for it periodically? No, of course not; you turn it into an RSS feed.


TwitRSS.me, at https://twitrss.me/ as you might expect, allows you to turn a single user’s Twitter feed or a Twitter search into an RSS feed. This is a “live” search, so it’s only going to find recent posts, not things have were posted weeks or months ago. Therefore the results are going to look different from when you use the Twitter search form. The Twitter search form will find older items; TwitRSS is to find items as they are posted.

Knowing that, I’m going to try a simple search:

(new OR newly) list:librariesval/library-news

screenshot from 2018 05 19 10 09 10

Which gets me what looks like screen garbage because I don’t have an RSS reader integrated into my browser:

screenshot from 2018 05 19 10 09 16

But hey, copy the URL and put it into NewsBlur and it’s lovely!

screenshot from 2018 05 19 10 09 42 1

Notice this is just one result, which tells me that it won’t update often but the results are pretty on point. I’ll have a lot more RSS feeds to make.

If I wanted to turn this into a novella, I could go through several other Twitter syntax that haven’t gotten a lot of attention (and I’ll do a followup article if there’s interest.) But once again, I’ve learned that special search operators are invaluable for narrowing down what you search and giving you useful, focused results. And being able to turn those focused searches into an RSS feed — that just means I’ll find more useful content for ResearchBuzz, and that makes my day.

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