5 ways to use Twitter as a police scanner

Multimedia journalist Dave Earley once posted that “Twitter was described as the police scanner of the 21stC.” He suggested that his followers choose a term with enough interest to produce a regular flow of tweets and display it all day. Neighborlogs has shown how “aspiring neighborhood bloggers” can save money by using Twitter instead of a scanner.

Here are five ways newsrooms and community bloggers can track Twitter chatter as if listening to a police or fire scanner.

  1. Twitter Search is Twitter’s official search. Just type in a phrase and hit the “search” button. Once your results are displayed, leave that page up and revisit it whenever you are waiting for your computer to do something else. If new results are found, Twitter Search will let you know, and prompt you to refresh the screen to see new results. Explore the advanced search to come up with more specific search criteria. You can even tell it to just show tweets that are near your city.
  2. Monitter lets you run multiple searches simultaneously. Results are automatically updated, so you don’t have to hit a refresh button. Monitter doesn’t have the advanced search criteria of Twitter Search, but you can still choose to only see tweets written in a certain language and/or within a specified location. Each search is displayed in its own column. You’ll need to scroll horizontally if you run more than four searches on a small screen. Monitter also has a widget to embed search results on your page, but some server-side installation is required.
  3. TweetGrid is like Monitter in a grid format. You can run up to 9 simultaneous searches that are constantly updated. Results can’t be filtered by geography, but a language can  be specified. You can also click on “full address” and bookmark your grid for later use. TweetGrid will also create a shortened URL to easily share your grid with other reporters and editors (take a look at this grid that tracks Orange County cities). TweetGrid has also added a small form to let you send tweets directly from your grid.
  4. TwitterFall is probably the best tool to display Twitter results on a big screen in a newsroom. Tweets that contain popular words “fall” form above. Click on “all custom trends” to search for words related to your beat. The results are constantly updated and you can make same tweaks to the display. If you supply your Twitter username and password, you can easily reply to or retweet messages as they appear.
  5. JustSignal (personal edition) is a great option if you are an instant messaging fanatic. You’ll need a friendfeed account to sign into JustSignal. Once you’re in, just enter a list of keywords. JustSignal will show matcihng friendfeed posts. But click on the “Track these items on Twitter too!” box and related tweets will show up as well. But the real  power of JustSignal is that it can “IM” search results directly to your Google Talk (Jabber), AIM or Yahoo instant messaging account. Twitter veterans will remember when this was a built-in feature of Twitter.

Related tweets:

  • “#newmediacincy participant about how it’s the best place to find out what’s going on: ‘Twitter is newest police scanner.'” @helenabouchez (Helena Bouchez),  Oct. 18, 2008
  • “Twitter is our generation’s version of listening to the police scanner, I think.” @jenneumann (Jen Neumann), Dec. 16, 2008

Photo credit: Kevin Walter

4 thoughts on “5 ways to use Twitter as a police scanner

  1. Great post!
    I would add TweetDeck to this list of resources. This app gives you 10 columns of tweets. When there's a subject I want to follow (such as #googmayharm this morning), I make search results for that phrase one of my 10 columns.

  2. Hey there! Saw the track back to #newmediacincy and thought I'd stop by and say hi!

    I've used Twitter Search, TwitterFall, and Tweetdeck. Haven't tried the others, but they look useful. TwitterFall is really interesting to watch, especially during an event that many people are tweeting about, like the Super Bowl or the Oscars.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Daniel. There are so many more options that have emerged since I wrote this post. I think it's time for an update. Do you have any recent favorites?

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