What Makes a Good Twitter Location Search Tool?

by John on February 24, 2012

Twitter location search

Searching Twitter by location requires high-tech gadgets

There are several tools out there which have Twitter location search as a feature and I have always found most of them to feel a little klunky.  I understand why the usability on many of them is not super-polished:  the vast majority of people just don’t need location search on a daily basis.  Low usage needs = low developer priority.  There is also a threshold of “good enough”.  If it does what is needed, no need to agonize over it’s implementation.

Here are Twitter location search design aspects that can make these tools less user-friendly:

  • It is often implemented by forcing you to use a specific syntax (if the word “syntax” comes up when describing a feature, you know there is a problem with usability).  You specify the location search by formatting your query in a specific fashion, such as:
near:London within:15km

Even us programmers don’t want to think like programmers when we’re using software.

  • When you type in a location name, you don’t know until you submit your query and get results back that your location will correspond to a valid location stored in the website’s database.  You need to guess whether “NYC” is going to be a valid place – there is no consistency across websites on what is valid and not valid.  Do they want “London, OH USA”, “London, Oh”, “London Ohio”?  Certainly, you cannot just put in “London” because you may get London, UK, London, ON, London, OH, London, KY…. or all of them; you never know.
  • When the Tweets come back, you don’t know if the location limitation was honored – there is no confirmation with each Tweet that the location matches the results returned.  You get screen names, Tweets, and times, but no source location giving you the warm and fuzzy that these Tweets indeed were posted in or around a 15-mile radius of San Francisco.  You have to click each person to confirm their location.

At TweetSeeker, we built our location search to address each of these issues:

  • There is no syntax – there are 3 fields: city, mile or km selection, and numeric radius
  • Our city field autocompletes: as you type each character, a list of matching city names throughout the world is updated and displayed.  Often you can type 3 characters and select your specific city from the list.  No need to cross your fingers and wait for the Twitter gods to agree with your choice of location name formatting.
  • Our search results grid has the location column for each Tweet so you don’t need to guess whether any of the Tweets occurred in your city of choice.

Of course you can combine a location with other means of search results refinement: language of the Tweet, number of followers of the author, date range, keyword exclusions, and more.

A couple of other search pointers:

  • Did you know that you can just type in “[keyword] city” in most tools’ main search field and get a high percentage of Tweets occurring in that location without having to take the extra steps mentioned above?  Try searching for “fun Los Angeles” and you’ll see that approximately 50% of the Tweets returned have an author location of Los Angeles.  Either it is mentioned in the Tweet explicitly or in the expanded link url if a link is provided.
  • Instead of searching Tweets by location, you can search Twitter profiles by location.  Just use our “Search bios” feature to search accounts by a keyword or city name.

Give it a try on TweetSeeker and if you need to do the search often, save it and then have it emailed to you daily with our Twitter email alerts feature.

You can also watch a video demonstration of our Twitter location search.


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