Even if you’re not a politician or a Hollywood superstar, you might be wondering how people can even dig up old tweets from years ago. When you go to your Twitter profile, your own tweets are listed in reverse chronological order in an “infinite scroll” design. You can’t do the usual CTRL+F to “find” the text you want from a tweet you wrote in 2008. Even if you don’t tweet that often, you’d be doing a lot of scrolling to cover any sort of reasonable ground.
The regular search bar on Twitter? It’ll bring up content from everyone by default and it’ll focus much more heavily on the most recent content, because that’s what people usually want to find on Twitter. But what if you’re trying to find that clever tweet you sent out in 2011, so you can share it as a #tbt or a blog post or something? It turns out that this is easier than you might think.
For the purposes of this example, let’s consider a blast from the past. Back in 2010, John Chow and I were invited to be featured speakers at Freelance Camp in Vancouver. I remember tweeting at the event, but I don’t really remember everything I said. Let’s dig into that history.
1. Go to the Advanced Search Page
So, the first thing you’ll need to do is navigate to the advanced search page on Twitter. That’s found at twitter.com/search-advanced. As far as I can tell, there’s no direct link to this advanced search page… at least if there is, it’s not obvious. You would think that you’d at least have an “advanced” option appear when you click on the regular search bar, but as of this writing, there’s nothing that I can plainly see.
You will need to be logged in to your Twitter account as well, since you won’t be able to access all of Twitter’s features while you are not logged in.
2. Enter Your Search Terms
The resulting window provides with a series of field where you can enter your search terms. These function like the boolean search syntax that you might already use on other search engines, but laid out in a line-by-line fashion so you don’t need to know exactly what symbols to use and how.
For your search words, you are provided with five such fields.
- All of these words: Every word you enter in this field MUST be included in the tweet you’re trying to find, though they can appear in any order.
- This exact phrase: An exact phrase match means the words you enter here must appear exactly in this order in the tweet.
- Any of these words: If any one of the words you enter in this field appears in the tweet, it’ll appear in the results. This is like the “OR” operator in a boolean string.
- None of these words: This effectively works like a blacklist, so any tweets with these words will NOT appear in the results.
- These hashtags: If you’re looking for content that contained a specific hashtag, like #604freelancecamp in our example here, you should enter it here.
3. Name Your Search Accounts
In the next section, you can name the accounts that you’d like to search on Twitter, but this takes on three different scenarios, each with its own entry field.
- From these accounts: If you’re looking for tweets you sent out yourself, then you’d put your username here (with the @ symbol intact).
- To these accounts: If you’re looking for tweets that were sent in reply to someone, you’d put that username here.
- Mentioning these accounts: Similar to the previous field, except here it’s for tweets that mention a particular Twitter account.
4. Define the Date Range
Okay, we’re almost there. The final section of the advanced search page allows you to define the date range within which you’d like to search for tweets.
- From this date: Enter the start date using the YYYY-MM-DD format. In our example here, I want to look up to about two weeks prior to the event, so 2010-05-15 (May 15, 2010).
- To this date: Enter the end date using the same format. In our example, I want to search up to one day after the event, so 2010-05-30.
5. Remember That Parameters Stack by Default
Perhaps one of the most important things to recognize about finding old tweets using the advanced search page on Twitter is that every parameter you enter is included in the search. You can think of it in that there’s an “AND” in between every field and not an “OR.”
When I searched using practically every parameter possible (where the tweet must’ve come from either @michaelkwan or @johnchow AND it had to include a mention for @michaelkwan and @johnchow, for example), I came back with just a single tweet that I sent out. Maybe that’s what I wanted to find. Maybe it wasn’t. To this end, you’ll probably find some success through trial and error using different combinations.
For example, here’s what I found when I restricted the search only to tweets SENT BY @michaelkwan or @johnchow, while retaining the search for the hashtag and the prescribed date range.
By contrast, here’s what comes up when I restricted the search to tweets that MENTION @michaelkwan or @johnchow, keeping the same hashtag and date range.
For even more advanced users, you’ll notice that my advanced search string automatically populated the search bar at the top of the Twitter page. After you’ve done this a couple times, you may get familiar with the precise formatting needed to achieve similar results. Realistically though, just using the advanced search page is probably just easier (and less likely to trip you up).
Do you have any awesome tweets from your past that you’d like to dig up? Now you know how.