Keyboard shortcuts for TwitterBack in the day, whenever I was unsure about the meaning of a word, I would leaf through a battered old Oxford English Dictionary. Will Self, although he doesn’t know it, probably caused the most indirect wear and tear of all my favourite writers.

My trusty tome was subsequently usurped by online dictionaries, but they too – at least for me – were soon been replaced by Google’s rather lovely ‘define:’ command. 

The ‘define:keyword’ command is surely the quickest way of finding out the meaning or spelling of a word, since Google typically returns a result in less than half a second. Try it. It’s highly useful.

I love a shortcut, and regularly make use of a range of keyboard shortcuts on Twitter. There are more of them than you might imagine. As such I have aggregated a bunch of commands to provide you with one handy cut-out-and-keep / ‘bookmark on Delicious’ guide. 

Let’s skip the basics. I assume you already know how to reply (@username), direct message (D username), retweet (RT @username) and so on.

Non-search commands

Try entering the following commands into the Twitter ‘post’ field, rather than as a search query. Results will appear in a dropdown overlay at the top of your Twitter feed…

GET username

This simply grabs the last tweets from a user, for example if you ‘tweet’ ‘GET lakey’ you’ll be presented with my last tweet (and you won’t actually tweet anything).

WHOIS username

A quick way of checking out a user is to use the WHOIS command. Tweet ‘WHOIS lakey’ and you’ll see the following, in a dropdown (and once again, you won’t tweet anything yourself):

“Chris Lake, since Sep 2008. bio: Editor in Chief at Econsultancy, blogger and entrepreneur. location: London, UK web: http://econsultancy.com”

FAV username

This adds the last tweet by that user to your favourites. 

The joy of Twitter Search

Now let’s look at Twitter Search, and how to really get the best out of it. Let’s start with some easy, user-specific queries…

FROM

To see the tweets I have sent simply enter the following query: ‘from:lakey

TO

Who has been publicly messaging me recently? Find out by searching for ‘TO:lakey

CITATIONS

Pretty straightforward, I know, but you can search for ‘@lakey‘ to see tweets where I have been mentioned. Includes retweets, rather than tweets aimed directly at me.

Drilling down into search

In the same way that you can use various commands and operators in Google to filter results, you can tweak Twitter search queries so that only relevant results are returned…

EXACT MATCH  

Just like in Google you can wrap around some quotation marks to return exact phrases, such as:

“captain beefheart

EITHER / OR 

Consider the above example. Since Twitter is character limited some of those Captain Beefheart fans might simply refer to him as ‘beefheart’. To look for both variations type in the following query:

“captain beefheart” OR “beefheart”

NOT / MINUS / AVOID

Use the ‘NOT’ command by adding a hyphen / minus sign. So if you want to find the captain but avoid the beefheart, and I can’t think why you would, then you can use this:

captain –beefheart 

GO LOCAL

This is pretty cool. You can filter tweets by location, to only show search results near to you. For example, you can see what people are wishing for near London.

“I wish” near:London

GO HYPERLOCAL

If the above example isn’t enough then why not target your search query by distance. You can ringfence results by applying a ‘distance’ parameter:

“I wish” near:London within:5km

And hey, it even does imperial measurements too… replace kilometers with miles if you want to annoy the Eurocrats:

“I wish” near:London within:5mi

NARROW BY DATE

If you need to filter results by date then you can add a range of date operators to your search query. For example, if I wanted to check out how many tweets have referenced Econsultancy in the past week (more than 1,400 as it happens) I can use the ‘SINCE’ command:

econsultancy since:2009-06-23

Alternatively I can look up tweets containing the word ‘Econsultancy’ up UNTIL 23 June as follows:

econsultancy until:2009-06-23

FIND QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Twitter’s search tool recognises the question mark, which is great if – like us – you’re in the business of helping people. For example, if you are a search wizard then you could try entering the following:

“i need” help seo ?

FIND LINKS

Use the FILTER:LINKS command to unearth tweets with third part links. I like listening to Animal Collective whenever possible and can often be found hunting for pointers:

“Animal Collective” filter:links

At this stage you might want to remember the NOT / MINUS command [-], since we’re not really interested in seeing all those spammy blip.fm links:

“Animal Collective” filter:links –blip.fm

Anything else?

I also frequently tweak URLs to jump around the search results more easily. Scrolling through page after page of results is no fun for anybody, so why not try the following:

SHOW MORE RESULTS

Search on something… anything. For example, search on my username. Here is the URL for the results page:

http://search.twitter.com/search?q=lakey

Now, scroll to the foot of the page and click ‘Older’. Note the URL string has been appended with a bunch of numbers, among other things:

http://search.twitter.com/search?max_id=2403627875&page=2&q=lakey&rpp=100

I have customised the amount of results I see by changing the default number to 100, at the end of the URL (‘&rpp=100’). That’s as many as it will show you… it beats 20 or whatever the default is. When you do this it will remember your settings for next time.

JUMP TO A PAGE

Again, the URL string can be changed to save you a hell of a lot of scrolling and pressing ‘Older’ to move forward. Simply tweak the ‘&page=2’ bit to ‘page=10’, or whatever number you choose. So…

http://search.twitter.com/search?max_id=2403627875&page=2&q=econsultancy&rpp=100

…becomes…

http://search.twitter.com/search?max_id=2403627875&page=10&q=econsultancy&rpp=100

Hit return and skip forward. Note that there is a limit on how many search results Twitter will show you… it used to go back into history but now results are time-limited.

If you can’t remember all of these keyboard shortcuts then there’s always Twitter’s advanced search form, but – just like Google’s ‘define:’ command – you can save time by learning a few of these to help you to quickly find what you need.

Hope that helps. No doubt I have missed a bunch – please let me know in the comments section below. 

Happy searching.

[Image by DeclanTM via Flickr, various rights reserved]