Twitter has re-designed its search engine so that it displays all tweets ever sent through the service — allowing users to watch historical events as they unfolded on social media, as well as to find embarrassing posts that had previously been lost to the mists of time.
Twitter — which has always kept all tweets, but hasn’t made them all searchable — now allows users to go all the way back to the beginning of the service, in 2006. Tweets used to disappear from the built-in search engine within a week or so, meaning that the only way to search further back than that required third-party tools — like Topsy, which was bought by Apple at the end of last year.
The searchable archive goes all the way back to the very first tweet on the service. (“just setting up my twttr,” co-founder Jack Dorsey wrote in the now-famous tweet on March 21, 2006, ushering in a new age of famous first tweets.)
In order to make the whole archive searchable, Twitter had to build new systems that could search through the half a trillion tweets stored there and present them, all within 100 milliseconds or less. That involved re-structuring the way that they were stored on servers — detailed in a lengthy blog post by Yi Zhuang, a Twitter engineer — as well as changing the physical servers that held them.
The search engine will still favour newer tweets, but will be able to pull up every tweet ever posted.
“Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency,” said Zhuang. “But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every Tweet ever published.”
Extra search terms allow users to pinpoint the results to specific terms. Twitter demonstrates the tool with a search looking at how its early users described New Year’s Eve in 2007, its first new year.
The tool also works on the mobile version of Twitter. (Users might have to click the ‘All Tweets’ button at the top of results to ensure that the older tweets are included.)
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