Twitter limits searches on site ... why?

Why would Twitter limit the number of searches a user may conduct -- a typical, relatively new user, such as me?

Two Twitter questions have been nagging at me: Why on Earth would Twitter limit the number of searches a user may conduct a typical, relatively new user, such as me, not some piggy third-party app or bot?

And, why on Earth would one of the most talked-about properties on the Internet make it so darn difficult to get an answer to such simple question?

Let's start with the first question first: On a recent Friday afternoon I was doing what Twitter insists it wants me to do, namely trying to find friends and acquaintances who are also Twitter users so that we can "follow" each other's "tweets," those tiny little messages that consume no more than 140 characters. Twitter provides a search box expressly for this purpose.

"Let's see," I would say to myself, "I wonder if my old pal Phil Intheblank is on Twitter." I'd type "Intheblank" into the search box, hit enter, and more times than not turn up nothing. On a few tries I'd find Phil or Bob or Sally and add them to my "follow" list. I did this maybe 15 to 20 times (I wasn't counting) over the course of maybe 15 to 20 minutes (I wasn't keeping track) before getting this message in response to my last query: "Sorry, you've reached your limit on searches for now."

Say what? It's Friday afternoon, news is slow, I'm trying my best to become a good Twitter citizen ... and you're cutting me off like some drunk who just fell off a bar stool?

Pique and curiosity prompted me to take the next logical step for one seeking an answer to a question about Twitter while actually being on Twitter. I sent this tweet out to my vast (not so much) network of Twitter followers: "Twitter search just told me: 'Sorry, you've reached your limit on searches for now.' ... (Here I used a naughty three-letter acronym for expressing incredulity.) No, seriously, (repeat naughty acronym) a limit on searches?"

I received one reply from a long-time friend/journalist/Twitterer: "I don't understand the search limit. Have you found any coverage of that?"

No was my answer, although I had just started looking for an answer. I scanned the Twitter FAQ and saw some passages relative to limits, but they were about sending messages and interacting with the Twitter API. As for limiting searches by an individual? If it's in there, I couldn't find it.

Two colleagues who have logged more Twitter time told me they had never encountered or heard of the search limit. Others have had the pleasure, though, and they were asking the same question: Why?

Twitter has another search box that promises you can "See what's happening right now." I entered "limit on searches" and that query turned up two full pages of Twitterers just as baffled as yours truly by this seemingly arbitrary roadblock. Here's one example: "I've reached my limit on searches; (There's that naughty three-letter acro again) I'm trying to add my social network; twitter FAIL."

I feel their pain, so the hunt for an answer would continue. I don't have any direct Twitter sources. The Twitter Web site offers no press contacts (insert three-letter acro), so I resorted to filling out a common user help request via their Web form. I quickly received an e-mail acknowledgement and tracking number.

That was Friday. By Tuesday afternoon that tracking number was all I had by way of a reply. There's the telephone, I reminded myself finally. I called and got a recorded message: "Hi, this is Twitter. The best way to reach us is by e-mail ..."

I sent an e-mail, which as of this writing has seen no reply. A post on my blog about produced much speculation about the search limit (abuse prevention, being foremost) — and even praise for Twitter's tactic — but nothing from Twitter.

Maybe they'll send me a tweet.

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Paul McNamara

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