Monday, August 31, 2009

Twitter's "Track" Command: Gone But Not Forgotten.

Twitter used to have a fantastic real time search command: Track

Sometime in 2008 it seems to have been turned off - probably because it generated too much SMS (text messaging) traffic.

During the San Diego Wildfires of 2007 I was splitting my time between San Diego (Carlsbad) and Santa Cruz (Capitola). The wildfires broke out over the weekend when I was in the Bay Area. By Monday morning two separate fires were threating our home in Carlsbad. I went to sleep, Monday night, trying to prepare myself, mentally, for what it was going to be like once our home burned down.

Tuesday, as I drove down to Carlsbad, I wanted every piece of information I could find about the fires. Listening to XM channel 247 (emergency channel - a wordplay on 24/7) helped, but it was too broad since it was covering all the fires burning in San Diego, Orange County, and L.A.

This is where Twitter's Track command was a saviour (keep in mind that there were no iPhone apps back then). I simply texted some keywords to Twitter and every time someone's tweet contained one of those words it was relayed to me via SMS. I had Twitter track "Carlsbad" and the major road near my home, "Palomar".

Retweeting wasn't as popular back then as it is now so I received very few duplicate tweets. Nearly every tweet that I received - and I was receiving a new tracking tweet every five minutes - was helpful:
"It doesn't look like the fire's reached Carlsbad."
"Winds dying down and reversing direction - I can see flames from Carlsbad."
"Voluntary evacuation south of Palomar Airport Road."
"KPBS reports that fire in San Marcos, near Carlsbad, is 20% contained."

Luckily, the closest both fires got to our home was about four miles. Now, if only Twitter could bring back the Track command and ignore retweets.

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