Twitter has been put to many unusual uses and the latest is the detection and responses to earthquakes in real-time based on the spike in tweets and their geo-locations.
The US Geological survey (USGS), as per this BBC report, is trawling the tweets for keywords like quake and earthquake to detect earthquakes to an extent , but mostly to gauge its impact and to know the severity in different geographic areas.
The idea is simple, when the quake is detected by traditional means, the twitter system is cross-checked to see if there was a spike following the event for tweets of interest (containing quake/earthquake) and if so a sample of tweets can be sent to scientists top help them access the impact and severity of the quake.
Its an idea that is simple but very effective. It is natural for someone with a mobile device or sitting on a laptop to update status immediately after the quake, if it not very serious. With geotagging this gives a very accurate estimate of both the location and severity.
Some of the Maharashtra region around Koyna dam (Pune/Mumbai/Nagpur etc) has been sitting on a fault line recently and there have been two small earthquakes in that region in the past few months. I have personally been able to find that earthquake has taken place , not by personal experience (I live in Pune, but did not feel both the quakes) or by hearing on TV channels but from the flurry of tweets that follow immediately after the event.
It is remarkable how quickly and accurately one can gauze the impact and severity by just following and searching the hash tags/ key words. the manual method I use worked to my satisfaction, but I am sure an automated system would be not only more responsive (which is critical in emergencies like these) and more authoritative.
But I doubt, if India Inc has a corresponding twitter strategy. Perhaps quakes are too big and important a matter to be left to state initiative alone. Perhaps here is room for some enterprising graduate to quickly write some code and offer integration with India’s response/detection initiatives. What do you think? Is twitter use and relevance overhyped, or is it a new and valuable source of information?