If you don't go on Twitter for a few days, how do you find the good stuff you missed? Because the stream — the flow of twitter messages (tweets) that moves down your homepage — moves so quickly, it's hard to travel back upstream and find interesting messages.
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Readers have e-mailed or tweeted messages to me seeking advice and help on this issue. Unfortunately, I found no panacea. Many Web 2.0 experts confessed to me that they never spend that much time away from Twitter, while others said it felt "pointless" to bother looking for tweets too far back.
Why would it seem pointless, you might ask?
If Google is the Web's library or reference desk, Twitter (as it's been pointed out to death) is the coffee shop or pub where the pulse of the community can be heard in the moment. Unless you were a cop investigating a crime, it might seem odd if you walked into the pub days later, and interrogated all the patrons about the specific conversations you missed.
But you would likely pick up themes over time, perhaps valuable ones.
Twitter has some tools in place that will help. The first thing you can do is click "more" at the bottom of your homepage, but that gets old in a hurry. Using Twitter's search tool, and helpful filters from third-party apps like TweetDeck, you can pick up on some more of the items that you missed. Overall, I didn't find a perfect solution, but here are some tips.
Put Your Trust in People (and RSS)
If you follow hundreds of people, it will overwhelm you to search for all of their tweets. As a result, you should just go to the Twitter profiles of thought leaders in your industry, or friends and colleagues whose opinion (and tweets) you find the most important.
Visit their Twitter home pages. Scroll back during the last few days to see what articles they decided to tweet or thoughts they shared. You can use Twitter's search tool to view replies to those tweets, which will fill you in on significant conversations.
RSS can be especially helpful for checking back on specific users. On the right side of a person's Twitter profile, click on the "subscribe to RSS" button. If you type the RSS address into, say, Google Reader, it will display messages from pretty far back in time. Yesterday, I set up an RSS feed from my Twitter profile, and it listed tweets from as far back as May 2.
Twitter's Search Tool
If you use Twitter for business, you might want to be on the look out for what tweets you missed around a certain product. Twitter's advanced search allows you to search for people, hashtags (a way Twitter users categorize topics, which we summarized), and keywords.
Twitter search also allows for date specific searches, if you're concerned about a few days you were off the grid. I wrote a how-to guide on how to utilize Twitter search, which also might help.
For me, Twitter search turns out to be a mixed bag. Because it sieves through so many tweets, you feel compelled to be as specific as possible in your query. But sometimes, specific searches turn up literally nothing. So if, at first, you don't succeed, search more broadly.
Perfecting search on Twitter might be the key to monetizing the company, a topic many have ruminated on after rumors surfaced that Google would court the San Francisco start-up as a potential acquisition.
The Apps Are Only So Helpful
If you are away from Twitter for a long time, TweetDeck and other third-party apps can only be so helpful. Because Twitter places limits on how many "requests" an app can make on its servers, the apps generally won't display tweets from too far back in time.
Some apps, like TweetGrid, allow you to search more thoroughly based on groupings, but their value might not outweigh Twitter's search tool by much. These apps tend to concentrate on more recent searches rather than date-specific ones.
C.G. Lynch covers Twitter, Facebook and other social and consumer Web technologies for CIO. You can follow him on Twitter: @cglynch.