Backup Your Twitter Feeds with Tweet Cabinet

Ever wanted to search through a user’s old tweets? Or maybe you’ve thought about archiving your timeline (for posterity, vanity, or perhaps future analysis). Problem is, there’s no easy way to do it. Twitter provides no such tools to its users (not directly, anyway). Thankfully, there are plenty of third-party services and apps for archiving and searching both your tweets and other public timelines.

Tweet Cabinet is the first app of its kind that I’ve seen for Mac. It keeps a local archive of as many users’ public timeline as you desire, allows advanced searching within this archive, and does not require authentication — you don’t even need a Twitter account to use it. But it feels underdone, with a poor user interface and limited non-search filtering options. Let’s take a look at whether there’s enough here to make the app worth your while.

Grabbing Tweets

Getting started with Tweet Cabinet is simple: Just click on the Add User button and type in the handle for the account you want to archive. The app then queries the Twitter API for all of that user’s public history, displaying the results in the main window. This comes with a few caveats, though.

Due to limitations with the Twitter API, Tweet Cabinet — just like all Twitter backup/archival services — can only pull a maximum of 3200 tweets. For some users, this will give you their entire history; for others, you may struggle to go back further than a year. (I was able to see a tweet from @macappstorm dated December 29, 2009.) If you want to look back further than 3200 tweets on any timelines, you’re in for a long and tedious manual search.

See what Mac.AppStorm was tweeting about back at the beginning of 2010.

If you’d like to read through the early days of Twitter, you can do so by changing the number at the end of a tweet’s permanent link. That number is the tweet’s ID, and you’ll be automatically redirected to the correct URL when you change it. For instance, if I take https://twitter.com/mossrc/status/237403397022699520 and change that big number at the end to 20, I’ll be redirected to the first public tweet, from March 2006: https://twitter.com/jack/status/20.

Tweet Cabinet does not grab native retweets, however, so there are unfortunate holes in the archive it creates. I’m not sure why this is — I’ve tried online Twitter backup tools that do, so I expect that it’s more an issue of implementation than a limitation of the Twitter API.

You can view either an individual or all users’ timelines. A username becomes bold in the Users column when one or more of that user’s tweets are displayed. The New Tweets button shows the total number of tweets — across all users — found since the last refresh.

Advanced Search

It’s not immediately obvious (unless you’ve been on the Tweet Cabinet Tumblr site), but the app offers very sophisticated text search options. The usual boolean operators (and, or, not) are represented by +, /, and -, respectively. You can enter the search terms Mac and app or Mac + app to find tweets with both of the words in their body, or Mac – app for tweets with “Mac” but not “app.” These can be joined and grouped using parentheses — say, app + (Mac / iOS), which will find tweets that mention apps and either Mac or iOS, or app + Mac – (iOS, Android, Windows), which retrieves tweets that contain the words “Mac” and “app” but not “iOS,” “Android,” or “Windows.”

Searching through my saved users for tweets containing the word app and either Mac or iOS. Note that even fairly short queries become partially hidden in the search box, which remains the same size no matter how big you make the window.

This is pretty neat, but the best bit is that you also have a near operator, ~, which looks for words that appear near each other in text. If your search terms are common words, this is a lifesaver. The more closely words are to each other, the more likely it is that they are related in meaning — and consequently relevance. You can specify word distance, too. Searching for Mac ~3 app returns tweets in which the two words are at most three words apart.

Tweets with the word “twitter” near the word Mac. This is a great way to add relevance measures to your search.

I was frustrated by the tiny search bar when testing out more complicated queries, but even with large datasets the results come fast. Tweet Cabinet’s search capabilities are a killer feature, so it’s bizarre that they’re not mentioned in the App Store description or explained in the (non-existent) in-app documentation. I should also note that, while using Lion, the app crashed many times when I tried to type parentheses in the search box.

Bad Design, or No Design?

Although it covers most of the bases, Tweet Cabinet is rather unwieldy to use. Minimalist user interfaces are all the rage these days, but this app isn’t minimalist in its design; it’s incomplete. The stock standard OS X toolbar has been used with odd spacing between icons and a search bar that should be bigger and more prominent. You can’t select text in a tweet, or click a link (although you can copy a link to the tweet or the full text of a tweet). You can’t select multiple tweets simultaneously, either. Right-clicking or double-clicking does nothing.

Tweet Cabinet shows no information about date or time of a tweet, nor is there an option to limit by date. If you include such advanced text search as is found here, why would you not also offer several non-text filtering options? You can adjust the maximum number of tweets displayed with the Tweet Limit box, but only to one of seven values (100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, infinity) — which is hardly ideal, especially given that you can’t add a date range to it.

Consider Your Options

The alternatives for Twitter backup in the Mac app world are sparse — as I said in the introduction, I’m not away of any similar apps, although I’m sure some savvy reader will mention one in the comments. On the web, however, Twitter archiving and backup tools are plentiful.

I’ve had great success with twDocs, which exports tweets to several different file formats and offers a number of options not found in Tweet Cabinet — including formatting customization and backup of direct messages. It does require authentication, however — so you’ll need a Twitter account to use it. Tweetake is a similar choice. Greptweet fetches public tweets from any user, formatting them in a plain text file that you can download or view in your browser.

TwDocs outputs a simple but detailed list of tweets, including all of the information you want — except perhaps for the actual tweet that you’re replying to. Why can’t Tweet Cabinet do something similar?

If you’re looking for something with more features, Backupify can do automated backups of multiple social media and Google Apps services — with free (storage limited) personal accounts. ThinkUp is pretty cool, too, with excellent analytical and visualization tools, but you’ll need access to a web server to run it.

It’s hard to recommend Tweet Cabinet over any of these — or other comparable services. Not when the cost is $4.99 for an app that’s still very rough around the edges, anyway. Tweet Cabinet still has a long way to go before it can stand above the web-based alternatives.

If you want to keep a regularly-updated local archive of tweets from any number of users, and you like the idea of doing advanced searches on that data, it’ll do the job well enough. But the app needs a much better UI, more filtering options, and more information included with each tweet (give me the date, at the very least). Until then, it’s just barely “good enough” — which is by no means good.


Summary

A backup tool for making local archives of public Twitter timelines, even if you don't have a Twitter account, with powerful text search tools but poor UI and limited filtering options.

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