To follow what's happening in the real world, you need real-time search. Google doesn't have it (yet). Neither do Bing nor Yahoo. But a number--a large, growing number --of new search services scan Twitter and other sites in nearly real time, and will find for you the absolute latest update from the real-time social Web. I looked at more than two dozen products that search Twitter (and other sources) to find the best tools for uncovering the beating pulse of whatever topic you may be interested in.
To set the stage, let's look at Twitter's own search service. It's not bad. It's simple to use, presents results in a very clear way, and does a good job of balancing users' needs to see results in real-time with their inability to actually read the stream of tweets flying by: It updates a counter at the top of the page as new tweets that match your search come in, but you have to hit a link to actually see the updates.
Twitter Search also has an extremely good advanced query builder, and you can subscribe to search results via RSS.
The downside to Twitter search is that it's dumb, at least for now. Results are only sorted chronologically. There's no algorithm to give you the most read, most authoritative, most linked-to, or most re-tweeted items. And it only searches Twitter.
There are three services that do a much better job than Twitter Search, and several others are also worth looking at for special cases. Here are the top three:
Best three real-time search services
Twazzup: As I've said before, Twazzup is a very useful and flexible Twitter search tool that provides almost all of what Twitter Search does itself, plus a few columns of algorithmically generated results such as most influential tweeters on a topic, related photos, and a great list of keywords based on your search results that you can use to refine your query.
Unfortunately, the Twazzup results page can be overwhelming to read, and it only searches Twitter (excusable for Twitter Search, not for other services).
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