Have you ever found it a bit irksome trying to work out what the deal is with a newly discovered Twitter user? Okay, so you can see their bio, and their most recent tweets, but this may not tell you much about the actual people with whom they’re associated.
One of the most interesting Twitter tricks I’ve found in some time is what I’m calling the Google Twitter Connectivity Snapshot. The idea works courtesy of Google’s Advanced Search, and can provide a quick insight into a Twitter user’s sphere of activity. True, you can read the user’s bio and look at the tweets or retweets on their profile page, but that often gives quite a self-conscious sense of who the person is. Sometimes, it’s more revealing to see what kind of people connect with them, and take a peep at some of the connections.
The trick uses a search restricted to Twitter profile pictures to assemble a collage of accounts which Google in some way links with the user you’re searching. The results are erratic, but often revealing. It can yield a different perspective from the one you get on Twitter, and it can rapidly lead you to key information.
I tested the process with some people I remembered from online forums seven or eight years ago, and whose Twitter accounts don’t show any obvious evidence of that past association. Google found the Twitter accounts of their main forum associates from back in those days.
WHY COLLATE BASED ON PROFILE PICTURES?
Limiting the search to profile pictures focuses on profiles rather than content. If you run a regular Google image search for a given Twitter user, the likelihood is that you’ll just see the images they’ve posted. The idea behind this search was to find interesting interactions involving a specified user. Using a collage of faces as a jumping-off point for that is a refreshing way to do it, I think. You just click through to Twitter from the Google thumbnail and see what’s there.
The success of this search depends on a range of factors. The search doesn’t like protected accounts, and in my experience it tends to shy away from unstable accounts too. Under the umbrella of “unstable accounts” I’m including those that regularly protect and unprotect, or frequently delete their tweets, or are prone to suspension. Because this search uses profile pictures to collate its results, accounts with no profile picture are almost certain to be excluded. You may struggle with people on shadowbans too.
Remember that the people showing up in this search may not be personal friends of the individual you’re searching. They may be arch enemies. They may not know each other at all. It could be that they share a connection with the same influencer(s), or like the same celebrities, or even just use the same hashtag(s). You need to click through from Google to Twitter to find out the significance. I find that an interesting discovery process in itself.
The more communicative a Twitter user, the better the sense you’re likely to get of the people they attract or are attracted to. The overview may be quite distorted for users who don’t interact much and just use Twitter as a publishing platform. If there’s no significant conversation, Google can get desperate and include some fairly tenuous results – a random account that came up as a Twitter recommendation when the profile page was indexed, maybe. Don’t assume every ‘connection’ in the search is a real one.
The search is also likely to be corrupted when someone is so famous that a range of fans have adopted the celebrity’s username as their screen name. You obviously still see the celebrity’s fans, but there probably won’t be much additional insight there.
There is, however, definite value in this search. Don’t let its unreliability put you off.
THE ACTUAL SEARCH
Here’s how to run the search…
First, go to Google Images. This is a pictorially-based routine, and it won’t work on the regular Google web search page.
Next, you’ll be needing the syntax…
“bbcnews” inurl:profile_images site:twitter.com
Paste that into the Google Images search box and simply substitute the username in quotes for the one you want to search.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The username in quotes tells Google to seek that exact word.
The next stage – inurl:profile_images – tells Google to restrict the search to matter whose URL, or web address, contains ‘profile_images’. On Twitter, the only URLs containing that underscored phrase are profile pictures. So you’re telling Google to confine the results to user profile pics.
And the final stage – site:twitter.com – forces Google to draw its results only from Twitter.
Have fun with it. I am.