twXplorer Does Twitter Search Better Than Twitter

With over 170 billion total tweets and more than 1.6 billion search queries per day, Twitter is an information powerhouse. But the real trick for most users is not getting at information… it’s getting at the right information.

Twitter itself has a basic search function, as well as an advanced search function. Both of these are great ways to find relevant information and new accounts to follow… but they’re not perfect.

A new tool released by Northwestern University’s Knight Lab called twXplorer is a visually-pleasing, informationally-relevant Twitter search tool that might actually do Twitter search better than Twitter itself.

One of the things that Twitter’s own search lacks is a good method of sorting information. Typically, when you search for a keyword or hashtag, you’ll see a list of people to follow (presumably because they recently or consistently tweet about that search term) and a selection of recent, relevant tweets. Great, but twXplorer goes further.

When you search for a keyword or hashtag using twXplorer, you’ll see four main results: recent tweets, the most commonly used terms, most commonly used hashtags, and most commonly shared links. Recent tweets are nothing new, but after playing around with twXplorer for a while, I can see why hashtags, terms and links are so valuable.

Take a look at the two searches I recently performed on both twXplorer and In both I simply searched for “GTA 5” (for any non-gamers out there, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a new – and already hugely popular – video game released earlier this week).

Here’s twXplorer’s results page. twXplorer shows me some recent tweets on the left, which Twitter will also do. But the real meat of the results are next to them: the terms, hashtags and links. I can see which articles and videos, for instance, fans of GTA 5 are most widely sharing. I can see which hashtags they’re using, and even jump in with my own tweets using the most popular ones, like #GTA5 and #bangout, the latter of which I might not have found organically.

And here’s Twitter’s results page. You’ll notice that there’s only two relevant tweets before I scroll, the most relevant of which is right at the bottom. There’s no hashtags (other than Worldwide Trends, which are not related to my search), links or terms – it’s mostly recommended accounts. One of the accounts that Twitter suggests I follow is @Vine. Now, sure, they’d obviously want to hype their own product, but this is a little much. @Vine has only tweeted once since August, and that single tweet had nothing to do with GTA 5. So why is it recommended?

Of course, if you scroll past the recommended accounts, you’ll see some actual relevant information (why this doesn’t appear closer to the top of the search results is anyone’s guess). News articles from Huffington Post, tweets about an interactive map from IGN… it’s all good stuff if you’re into GTA 5, but it seems awfully light compared to what twXplorer serves up.

twXplorer has additional features that would be great for researchers or anyone with an interest in drilling down into data. You can save snapshots of searches so your results don’t get lost in the real-time flow of tweets, and you can filter your results by certain terms.

Plus – here’s a real bonus – twXplorer offers all of the same features (popular terms, hashtags, links, snapshots, drilling into the data) for any list you’ve created or subscribed to. I can’t think of a better way of getting an overview of what people in your lists are tweeting about at any given time.

Give twXplorer a try, and I bet you’ll find it hard to go back to!