This second post in our series on Twitter research tackles tools and tips for finding the right people and networks. We also look at some of the most high profile Twitter services that offer search services and other functionality. But, first a word of warning. New Twitter tools are popping up all the time. This a fast changing area and new services can be abandoned by developers. Don’t rely on one tool and keep an eye out for alternatives as they come along. Additionally, don’t forget Twitter’s own tools, which are frequently updated.
Simple Twitter User Finder
For simple topic searches Listorious is a good start. It has a database of more than 2 million Twitter users and you can search for Twitter users by topic keyword or Twitter lists. Here we used the search phrase ‘oil spill’.
Network research and analysis
To tap the real potential of Twitter, however, you need to make connections between people. This is important for many reasons: to profile people accurately; to discover new contacts; to make unexpected connections between individuals and groups; and, to identify influential people within networks.
One of the best and most intuitive tools to help you with this Twiangulate and here’s how you can use it to analyse networks and connections.
Firstly, you can map connections to create a useful visual network of Twitter users. You can either identify a specific Twitter list or you can add as many Twitter users as you like.
Twiangulate then automatically creates a ‘map’ of the network and how they connect to each other. In this example we ‘mapped’ a list of Twitter users related to the Gulf oil spill.
Each user in the network is identified on the map and the value allocated to each member indicates the percentage of other members they are linked to. When you hover your cursor over individuals in the map you pull up profile information for that member including recent tweets and bio information. For a quick and visual way to get to grips with a specific network this tool is excellent.
Twiangulate also gives you the power to look at a Twitter user’s ‘inner circle’. There is nothing interesting about whether someone follows Stephen Fry. The Twitter contacts that are far more interesting are the users who have a more modest following. These people are more likely to have firmer connections to the user you want to profile. Twiangulate calls this their ‘under-the-radar’ service because it serves up the 100 friends with the fewest connections followed by specific users. Those Twitter contacts are more likely to be close colleagues, friends or business associates.
In this example we have looked at two high-profile BBC journalists. In addition to this visual, Twiangulate lists their 100 friends with the fewest contacts. It also highlights those common to both.
Another way to find connections is to trace mutual friends – the people who two or three Twitter users follow in common. Use this to get to the heart of particular networks and identify influential people in groups. In this example (below) we looked for people followed in common by two BBC journalists and the science writer Ben Goldacre. We found that one user is followed by all three while at least two of the users we included in our analysis share hundreds of friends. The more the friend lists overlap – the closer you are to the heart of a network.
Another way to analyse networks is to find mutual followers – who follow the same two, three or four people. These people have made common ‘follow decisions’ which suggests they have a well-defined focus of interest. In this example we selected three journalists and commentators on video gaming and games development.
We found that 86 Twitter users follow all three of these people. Obviously, if you identify three important resources on Twitter then people who follow all three may also be important targets for your research. Hence: ‘twiangulate’.
Tools to help you find tweeps
LocaFollow: A fairly high-profile service promising to help you find local Twitter users in small towns, using Google search. The immediate thing to be aware of with this tool, as with many others, is that you need to give it access to your Twitter account for full functionality. Users are increasingly becoming more aware of security issues associated with third party access, so think carefully about which services you use.
So, what does LocaFollow do? The service aims to help you search for Twitter handles with certain characteristics, eg. location, keyword in bio and then follow them from that page.
However, the site seems to have reached a hiatus. The last blog update was in July 2010.
The problem here is that you can do your own advanced keyword searching to identify the right people without LocaFollow. If you are familiar with Google’s advanced operators you can search for keywords in Twitter bios and specific locations. For example this search: site:twitter.com “bio * doctor“ (the operators are in red) typed directly into Google’s search field returns hundreds of thousands of Twitter users with the word ‘doctor’ in their bios.
This similar search: site:twitter.com “location * edinburgh” finds people who specify their location as Edinburgh. For serious research, other tools do a better job than LocaFollow.
Tweet Adder is another high profile Twitter tool which is advertised at the bottom of the LocaFollow page and you have to pay for everything other than the free demo.
And, again, for functionality you’ll have to give it access to your Twitter account.
We tried the free demo. It’s pretty nice. It allows you to search Twitter users by various factors: eg. topic/location and brings up a list which you can check and create lists from. You can then ‘follow’ by bulk. There’s also an option to search profile data and the followers of users and lists.
The ‘tweet generator’ tool, however, probably isn’t going to pass muster for a journalist. There’s some things that should be done by a human. Plus, we couldn’t actually get it to work in the demo. The feature for tweeting from an RSS feed is likely to be more appropriate for journalists and researchers.
Overall, Tweet Adder is much more intuitive than LocaFollow. But its primary role is not research. Instead, it is designed to help you get followers. Whether it’s worth the money to a researcher or journalist is the key question, especially when there are so many excellent free tools available.
Twitscoop offers a range of services such as tag and trend monitoring in real-time. Like Tweet Adder, it also offers tools to monitor your follower activity, once it has access to your account. Here we have logged in with an account:
It shows trending topics, as well stats for certain tweets. In the example above, it showed us that @bengoldacre’s link had received 872 clicks. It uses Zobmark to archive and organise your Twitter links – this is a service that collects your links when you tweet #zob with your message.
However, when we tried out Zob, our tweets didn’t show up and it doesn’t look like it has a very big user base. Plus, Zobmark’s own bookmarks haven’t been updated since 27 January.
With bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo for storing tweets and services like FriendFeed that capture your tweets, the benefits of this service aren’t really obvious – plus you have to stick an odd looking hashtag on all your content.
Moving onto the next, Twitstat. To have any functionality at all with Twitstat you need to be logged in. Once in, it’s pretty ugly.
Looks aside, it lets you search a Twitter user, establish your relationship and view lists and see your retweets (by you, and your tweets retweeted) from your home page. Not much you couldn’t do on the Twitter page. Plus, Twitter is prettier.
Tweet Adder, LocaTweet, Twitscoop and Twitstat are better as marketing rather than tools for serious or effective research. For the latter, we need to look elsewhere.
In our next post in this series we’ll examine #Hashtags and Trend Monitoring.
** Learn more about sophisticated search techniques on our one-day Advanced Internet Research course, Wednesday 16 March in London. Book soon though as only two places available at the time of writing. **
Tags: advanced online research, Advanced Techniques, advanced twitter research, Listorious, real-time search, search techniques, Twiangulate, Twitter, twitter searching