One of the features dropped by Twitter as its user base grew was the ability to track certain keywords on mobile phones or IM clients, conveniently called “Track.” The feature's functionality will now be making somewhat of a comeback, though, this time just as an API method.
Track worked by allowing users to submit certain keywords trough SMS and then receive any tweet containing the term on their mobile phones. The feature was dropped by Twitter because of scaling problems, but the new API method, also called “track” and currently in alpha, would allow developers to introduce the very same functionality to a variety of services like Twitter desktop clients and even SMS.
“The /track resource allows searching the Firehose stream for a list of keywords. This resource may be a useful adjunct to the Twitter Search API. While the predicates are less powerful than the SearchAPI, results are streamed continuously and with low-latency. For common keywords, a more complete set of results can be delivered than is possible by polling the Search API,” an entry on Twitter's mailing list describing the feature reads, as pointed out by the Stay N' Alive blog.
The API now offers developers the possibility to get real-time results on search queries, opening the doors to any number of possibilities for streaming information. The most likely candidates to use the feature will be Twitter desktop clients, a fiercely competitive market today, which are always looking for new ways to add functionality. But more specific services may end up taking better advantage of the new API method, like the recently launched TweetTabs, which does automatic, near real-time searches on specific search keywords and updates the results as new tweets come in.
The feature is currently in private alpha, available to only a small number of developers, but one should expect some interesting functionality and services in the near future, as Twitter moves further away from a conversation platform to an information source.