On Wednesday, Topsy announced that it has now indexed every Twitter message since the first tweet was posted in 2006 — about 425 billion pieces of content when you include photos, pages linked from Twitter, and other related material. Yest, that's 425 BILLION!
Operating a lot like Google and other search engines, Topsy provides a "search box" in which you enter the words or phrases you are searching for. Topsy’s algorithm then displays what it thinks are the most relevant results, factoring in retweets and the past influence of the tweeter.
Twitter itself also offers a search function, but its algorithms are not nearly as sophisticated as those of Topsy. Twitter's own searches favor recent tweets while Topsy digs deeper, looking for the more relevant entries that match the search terms you give it.
For instance, I went to Topsy.com and entered a search of "eogn.com" and it quickly displayed many articles from this newsletter, apparently organized by the ones that had been re-tweeted the most. (You can see the results at http://topsy.com/s?q=eogn.com.) Topsy also offered the options to display the tweets in the newest ones first or the oldest ones first.
To find something more specific, I entered:
eogn.com "Society of Genealogists "
Topsy immediately returned several of my tweets that mentioned the Topsy in my newsletter's past articles. You can also find those results at: http://topsy.com/s?q=eogn.com%20%22society%20of%20genealogists%22.
I then searched for my mother's rather unusual maiden name and found tweets posted by my first cousin, twice removed.
Topsy also offers an Advanced Search capability that allows the user to narrow down searches by the parameters shown in this screenshot:
You can even use a number of search operators to narrow the search results even further:
If you create a free account on Topsy, the web site will even repeat your searches frequently and send you an email message of any newly-found "hits."
Keep in mind that Topsy can only search the very brief tweets posted to Twitter.com, it does not search full articles from other web sites.
The consumer-oriented service at http://topsy.com is available to everyone free of charge. The site doesn't even display advertising, at least not yet. Topsy makes its money from more sophisticated tools — aimed at marketers, media companies, political operations, and hedge funds — that require a subscription fee that starts at $12,000 a year. Those allow searches that compare different terms, narrow down results by geography and surface the specific tweets with the most influence on the social conversation.
Topsy can be very useful when searching for references to difficult-to-find information. I don't see it as a great genealogical tool for everyday use, but I will try it when other methods fail.