May 30, 2008

FriendFeed Friday Tips #3: Take Advantage of Advanced Search

By popular demand, I've been asked by other FriendFeed users to highlight how I use the popular social lifestreaming site. So far the series has covered the "Hide" function, and the bookmarklet. Today, I thought I'd take a look at how to maximize the site's advanced search capabilities.
Considering almost ninety percent of the FriendFeed team has a Google pedigree, it's no surprise they made aspects most associated with Google, such as scalability and simplicity a priority. Also a big thing at Google? Search. FriendFeed's search function indexes in real-time, and can be diced every which way, including by service.

1. Where is Basic Search and What Does It Do?

Every FriendFeed page features the default search box in the top right corner of the page. By default, FriendFeed's search button searches through your activity and that of your friends. Searching a keyword will look not only at shared items, but also their comments, nicknames, and user names.

The upside of this activity is that you can find results extremely fast. But one downside is that if you try to search for any time you might be mentioned (called ego-searching), you still have to wade through all your own activity. So far, FriendFeed doesn't let you exclude a specific user's items, including yours.

2. Where is Advanced Search?

FriendFeed's advanced search is only available from the search results page itself, but you can find it at

The advanced search option, waiting for queries.

3. Advanced Search > By Service

The advanced search capability essentially lets you limit your search results, either by service, by person, or by group. For example, you can limit search results to be from bookmarks, or from within Disqus comments, by using the pull-down option. Again, by default, you are searching your own friends, but can branch out to choose a specific user or show everyone.

4. Advanced Search > By User

Searching by user is especially good if you want to see everything on a specific topic that one user has done. Want to see how often Drew Olanoff mentions ReadBurner nowadays? Search for ReadBurner and where it says "one person", enter his nickname, drewolanoff. FriendFeed has amusingly given the nickname "scobleizer" as the example, as you can see in the above screenshot, but any name will do.

Searching "drewolanoff" for ReadBurner mentions.

"drewolanoff"'s ReadBurner content is displayed.

One downside to this search is that it can also returns comments from friends that mention the search term on their shared items, even if the specific person you're searching on didn't say it.

5. Advanced Search > By User > By Service

Now, combining #3 and #4, you can search a specific service by user for a keyword. Going back to "drewolanoff" and ReadBurner, I can select Twitter as a service, and only show the times that Drew mentioned ReadBurner on Twitter.

Searching "drewolanoff"'s Twitter entries for ReadBurner mentions.

"drewolanoff"'s Tweets on ReadBurner.

6. Some Fun Ways to Use Advanced Search

The most fun with advanced search is probably when using it to search FriendFeed's public feed, or "everyone". While FriendFeed is well known for its noise, you can cut through the noise of even the public feed with advanced search.

Want to find out how many other electronica fans like the music of Underworld? Search for the term "Underworld", select or Pandora as services, make sure the "Everyone" option is checked, and hit search.

Looking for future concert buds...

Wow! Fellow Underworld listeners!

Want to see how many people are sharing YouTube videos of Bill O'Reilly? Search for Bill O'Reilly, select YouTube as a service, and again, choose everyone.

A popular topic on YouTube these days...

Once a clown, always a clown.

Like pictures of sunsets? Search for sunset on Flickr or SmugMug.

The world's best sunsets, one query away.

For many people just getting started with FriendFeed, using the advanced search tool could be a fast way to find peers.

7. Using Boolean Searches With Advanced Search

Given our expectations that all searches act like Google searches, I expected boolean searches to work. Searching for "Cat OR Dog" highlighted comments and shares with cats or dogs, while searching for "Cat AND Dog" only showed items where both appeared in the thread. Oddly, the words "and" and "or" were bolded in the results, which Google would ignore.

Searching for text in quotes also limits results to the specific phrase. Searching for "Monkey's uncle" with quotes would get one set of results, while searching for "Monkey's uncle" without quotes also returns a tweet, "At Uncle Billy's with monkey woman". Not very nice. :-)


Although FriendFeed's user base is still well behind that of the more widely-known services, the team has already gained a good reputation for indexing data quickly, and the search function is sharp, especially when you consider that the database has to index not only the many millions of updates across three dozen services, but also all the comments being left, in real time. The advanced search functionality can let you hone in on just what you're looking for, and cut through the noise.