Until Tuesday afternoon, when Twitter released its first complete index, digging up old tweets — even from politicians, celebrities and other notables — was a surprisingly difficult task. Twitter's infamously glitchy search function could only go back so far in time. Google only indexes a small percentage of all tweets, and is biased in favor of top-tier accounts.
So if you wanted to surface, say, those profane, insulting and otherwise unsavory tweets that basketball's Kevin Durant sent circa 2009, you had two options: Navigate to Durant's timeline, put a weight on your keyboard's "down" arrow and hope to reach the bottom within your lifetime; or shell out thousands of dollars for an analytics service like Topsy (... which shuttered to the public a few months ago, anyway). You couldn't jump to a particular month or year in a user's timeline, as you can on Facebook. And you certainly couldn't search a user's corpus of tweets.
In other words, even Durant's more offensive missives were pretty darn safe. Until now!
That's because Twitter just began rolling out a new search infrastructure that will allow anyone to search every tweet ever published publicly. That might not seem like a terribly profound deal, given that this information was technically out in the open already. But as anyone who has ever searched for an old tweet knows very well, "out in the open" is a relative term. A tweet from 2006 may technically be accessible, but it's buried under eight years of digital sediment — thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of later tweets, each appearing reverse-chronologically, fossilizing the oldest tweets further, linking none of them to search results.
In fact, you can think of Twitter's incomplete index as a corollary to the whole right-to-be-forgotten debate: In both cases, the material in question is still online — but since it's not tied to a search index, it may as well not exist.
Twitter is rolling the index out by degrees: While the underlying infrastructure went live on Tuesday, a post on the platform's official blog says they'll continue tweaking how search results are displayed and rolling out "new product experiences," whatever that means.
In either case, you have a little time to ponder the ancient tweets you'd most like to uncover. Or to clean up your own digital footprint! You decide.