From: Bates Information Services, www.BatesInfo.com/tip.html
Seeing the word "useful" next to the word "Twitter" might seem oxymoronic to some... kind of like jumbo shrimp or deafening silence. We forget that the main complaint of Twitter -- that the signal-to-noise ratio is so low -- can be said of the web as a whole. Go to ten web pages at random and see how few web pages are even remotely relevant to what you do. What differentiates the web from the Tweetosphere is the existance of robust finding tools. Search engines play that role in the general web, enabling us to avoid most of the web pages that would not interest us. Most Twitter interfaces overload new users with unfiltered tweets, leading sensible people to throw up their hands and walk away.
However, I have found several real-life uses for Twitter lately, with just the search feature on Twitter. Let me know what other ones you come up with.
Use one of the word-cloud generators (I use Search Cloudlet, an add-on for Firefox) and see what words are most frequently used in conjunction with a news event. I searched Twitter to see what words most frequently came up in the context of health care reform. Right now, the buzzwords are public option, doctors, congress and include. Interesting that insurance companies aren't being mentioned very frequently.
Monitor live news, as reported by people nearby. If, for example, I want to see if there's a jump in the mentions of the H1N1 virus near me, I might search for "swine flu" OR h1n1 near:denver within:25mi
Monitor mentions of your organization's names, particularly those when the tweet includes an outbound link. If I was monitoring Crocs, the shoe company, I might search for #crocs filter:links
Gather hightlights from a conference. Within a week of the conference, just search for the hashtag for the conference on the Twitter web site ( for example, I'll soon be speaking at Internet Librarian, which has #IL2009 as its "official" hashtag). Keep clicking the "Older" link at the bottom of the search results page until you have all the tweets on one screen. Copy and paste that to a word processor, and you can easily skim through it to see key ideas. In fact, take all the words and throw them into Wordle.net, which generates a word cloud from any body of text you give it. You'll see the dominant themes of the conference, and can identify the key speakers.