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Hacking an RSS Feed for Twitter Hashtags

EKG ReadingTwitter has made it increasingly difficult to use RSS as a way to read individual user streams, and more crucially, hashtag streams. Perhaps this is not entirely Twitter’s fault, as RSS (Real Simple Syndication) has become more marginalized as a web tool (witness Firefox’s removal of the RSS icon from the location bar). These moves are a mystery to me, however, for RSS remains the unheralded workhorse of the web.

Why would you want to use RSS and Twitter together?

I can imagine several answers to this question, but I’ll highlight only one here (hoping that ProfHacker readers will supply more in the comments). Quite simply, RSS is a fantastic way to follow—and archive—Twitter search results, for say, a course hashtag.

This is exactly what I do. Whenever I use Twitter in a course, I follow the RSS feed of that hashtag with my desktop email client, which has a built-in RSS reader. I use PostBox, but this works just as easily in the open source Mozilla Thunderbird—or Google Reader for that matter. The tweets from my students come in and there they are, in my RSS inbox, permanently stored on my hard drive. Unlike a Twitter archiving service like TwapperKeeper, the RSS results include a link back to the original tweet. And, depending on your RSS reader, they’re incredibly searchable.

Creating RSS Feeds in Twitter

In the old days, Twitter provided a direct link to an RSS feed of any hashtag right there on the search results page. After Twitter updated its web interface, this link disappeared from the search results, though it was still possible to temporarily revert back to “classic” Twitter, grab the RSS link, and switch back to the new Twitter. But now that the original interface is no longer available at all, it would seem that RSS is gone as well—a condition seemingly reinforced by Twitter’s own public abandonment of Twitter.

But all is not lost. RSS is not dead yet.

Academic librarian Valerie Forrestal has documented a simple way to score RSS feeds for any Twitter search result, i.e. for hashtags. Following her cheat sheet, we see that it’s simple matter of plugging in the search keyword into this formula:

http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23hashtag

Replace the bold “hashtag” with your own keyword, drop this URL into an RSS reader, and you’ve got yourself a continuous RSS feed of that hashtag. For example, to follow the #MLA12 stream, this is the URL you need:

http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%23mla12

The “%23″ takes care of the actual hash (pound sign), so you don’t need to include an “#” in the URL.

Despite Twitter seemingly eliminating RSS feeds for hashtags, it’s that easy!

[Heartbeat photograph courtesy of Flickr user Rosemary / Creative Commons License]

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