For a long time Twitter’s search functionality was criminally underused. Twitter knew this – heck, everybody knew this – and slowly but surely it has started to make improvements to its search tool to encourage users to be more proactive.

First, they made it faster. Then, they made it look better. Earlier this year they started adding additional, crowd-pleasing functionality, such as the Google-esque autocomplete that arrived in July.

Yesterday, Twitter announced further revisions to search, including greater emphasis on photos and videos, stronger media placement on apps and an explanation as to how and why your top tweets in search are selected.

The official Twitter blog has all the information:

Here are three new elements you’ll see when you search:

View photos and videos first: People tell incredible stories on Twitter through photos and videos. When you search for a person, an event or a hashtag, you can now see a grid of the most relevant media above the stream of Tweets.

See headlines and photos: You can also see media instantly in your search results stream on iPhone and Android. Photos and article summaries automatically show previews to give you a bird’s eye view on what’s happening.

Understand context: About a year ago we launched tailored ranking of your search results, but until now you couldn’t see why a specific Tweet might matter more to you. Now you can see context like who favorited or retweeted right there in the Tweet.

The new functionality is out now on Twitter.com and the official iPhone and Android apps.

(Source: Twitter blog.)