As a news junkie, and one with an interest in global terrorism, I was glued to my computer monitor for a large part of the almost 60-hour siege at the historic Taj Hotel in Mumbai and the related terror attacks. I had NDTV from New Delhi in one browser window; CNN/IBN streaming in another.
And, of course, I was closely following the conversation on Twitter. In the process, I learned some new Twitter tricks to share with you here.
1. Advanced Search Leads to Eyewitnesses
With a huge volume of tweets adopting #mumbai as a hashtag, it was hard to sift the wheat from the chaff–or as my tech friends would say, the noise to signal ratio was way too high. Many people were tweeting and retweeting news reports, some accurate, some dubious. But buried in the avalanche of 140-character messages were some eyewitness reports, and I learned a new way to mine the nuggets: advanced search.
Go to http://search.twitter.com — now, see the small type to the right of the Search button that says Advanced Search? Click on it. Or, you could just go straight to http://search.twitter.com/advanced.
I used this feature to search for Twitter users located within 15 km of Mumbai. VoilÃ ! Not all of these people were eyewitnesses–some were reporting what they were hearing on local news or from friends–but I quickly found three people who were nearby and tweeting about what they were seeing and hearing first-hand. They were also taking lots of photos, which soon found their way on to Flickr.
CNN found them too because before long, @vinu, @arunshanbhag and @dina were being interviewed via telephone for international newscasts, and the following day several mainstream newspapers quoted them as well.
Click the thumbnail at left to see a screenshot of the Advanced Search form with the input parameters. Alternatively, you could use these search operators to get the same results:
#mumbai near:Mumbai within:15km
2.Â Twitter Detective: How to Spot the Trolls
After a few hours the #mumbai hashtag was infected with a number of people taking advantage of the opportunity to spread their propaganda. Suddenly we were hearing that the Mumbai terror attacks had been perpetrated by the Mossad (the Jewish conspiracy theory that routinely gets trotted out ); that all Muslims are terrorists (ditto); or that the attacks were the handiwork of Hindus, etc., etc. Some tweeters were more subtle but still had an obvious agenda.
It was interesting to see how many of these trolls had created Twitter accounts strictly for that purpose. Click through to the profile and you could see that they were following zero people and had zero followers, or a handful at most, and that the oldest updates had begun after the terror attacks took place.
The obvious trolls I blocked, in the hope that if enough people did that, their account would be suspended for unusual activity. Additionally, I found that you could eliminate these users from your advanced Twitter search by the use of the minus operator: i.e. #mumbai -trollname1 -trollname2
However, the list of people I wanted to block from the discussion got too long, so I just waded through their wretched rhetoric to read what interested me.
3. Tweetchat: Like a Chat Room for Hashtags
Brooks Bennett, whom I met as a fellow panelist for an event sponsored by the Texas Public Relations Association, created a new tool I enjoyed using to follow the #mumbai discussion. After we had discussed Twitter and hashtags at the TPRA conference, Brooks went home and thought, “What if you could have a Twitter chat room based on one topic?” … and then he created just that over the weekend. I had the fun of demoing it to the American Heart Association just two days later. (I’m telling you, things move fast in this social media world!)
Tweetchat turns a hashtag into a Twitter-style chat room. It’s just like Twitter Search in the way it displays a stream of each post that uses a particular hashtag. Unlike Twitter Search, the page autorefreshes (yay!). Plus, you can post to Twitter directly from Tweetchat–no switching between browser windows or applications. Additionally, when you post a Twitter update from Tweetchat, it automatically appends the hashtag for you, so you don’t have to worry about typos.
To use Tweetchat, go to http://tweetchat.com and log into Twitter with your username and password (not stored by the Tweetchat server; simply used to authenticate your account with the Twitter API). The “room” name is the hashtag you’re following. You can also send someone a direct link by using a format like this: http://tweetchat.com/room/mumbai
UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly formatted the above link with a hashtag; it is not needed in the URL.
Brooks recently made some tweaks so that links now open in a new tab, and he fixed a bug that truncated messages that included an ampersand. I’m sure he would appreciate feedback when you try Tweetchat, so ping him on Twitter @BrooksBennett.
Those are my recent discoveries about Twitter. What new tips or tricks have you learned?