As social sites have increasingly deployed cute algorithms to feed us what they want us to see (as opposed to what we actually asked for), it’s become almost essential for the serious reader to adopt a more proactive approach than the simple policy of ‘follow and wait’.
The online advertiser’s Holy Grail is to make us think we’re reading what we personally selected, whilst actually feeding us a substantial mix of ‘recommendations’ and ads. Some companies are better at this than others. Google does it best, keeping the consumer feeling free and unmanipulated. Twitter definitely does not yet have the art that conceals the art. If you let Twitter into the driving seat, it’ll probably take you to Hell. But if you seize the controls, you can get just as insightful an experience from Twitter as you can from Google. Twitter’s real user controls lie in its search capability.
However, even stepping outside of Twitter’s follow-and-wait norms can be frustrating. One of the most common complaints about Twitter searches pertains to link spam. Influential people are often excessively keen to promote their ventures, and some are pocketing backhanders to promote other people’s ventures too. They might have some very important things to say, but do you want to wade through ten promo tweets to find each nugget of wisdom? Of course not. Here’s how you read their insight, without suffering their sales campaign…
There are other ways of doing this, but I’ve found the route below to be by far the most reliable. As usual, I’d recommend using the desktop version of Twitter for the best results.
Enter the following formula into the Twitter search box…
from:@Username -URL:https -URL:http
Don’t add or remove any spaces, and of course, switch @Username for the username of the person you’re searching. Like magic, you’ll find almost all of the spam has disappeared.
You can add multiple usernames if you link them with a capitalised “OR”. For example…
From:@Username1 OR from:@Username2 OR from:@Username3 -URL:https -URL:http
There’s no need to keep typing all that if you want to revisit the feed on an ongoing basis. Just bookmark the search results in your browser, and they’ll update live every time you click on the bookmark.
The trick of filtering out https and http URLs, using Twitter’s minus command, works so well because webspam almost invariably contains a link. Cut out the links, and you cut out the spam.
Unfortunately, as a side effect, you’ll also cut out tweets containing images. That’s because images are hotlinked from a separate domain, and are incorporated into tweets via a URL. However, if you were specifically looking for images from a user, there’s already a built-in “Photos” filter in the Twitter search menu. You could simply search…
… And then select ‘Photos’ in the search menu.
SELECTIVE SPAM FILTERING
But what if the user you’re searching tweets picture spam? That is, they put pictures into their link spam tweets to make them more eyecatching? Well, if the pictures have value in themselves, that’s fine. Just look at the pictures. But in some cases the pictures don’t have value. Some people, for example, use automated link-spamming tools that tweet the same image with every link. Twitter has reduced its tolerance of this kind of annoyance, but it certainly still exists. How do you get rid of it, whilst still seeing the pictures that have value?
You could try selective link filtering, based on the site(s) the user is linking to. Let’s say that all of the automated spam is linking to two separate websites: MySpamSite1.com, and MySpamSite2.com. Here’s how you’d filter out both of those specific sites in your search…
from:@Username -URL:MySpamSite1 -URL:MySpamSite2
That would eliminate spam links to those sites, but you’d still see images because you’re not filtering out all links. If you ONLY want to see images, but NOT images containing links to the two spam sites, you could try this…
from:@Username -URL:MySpamSite1 -URL:MySpamSite2 filter:twimg
“filter:twimg” limits your search to tweets containing the name of Twitter’s photo domain. And since “twimg” is not used in conversations or for other types of content, it will ensure you only see images.
If you’re interested in Advanced Twitter Search, the post about finding Twitter users’ previous usernames covers a lot of important ground.