USGS Now Embraces Twitter as Source of Earthquake Information

earthquake This time it was personal.  The earthquake hit three miles from my house.  It was a minor one, magnitude 3.7, but I felt it very strongly, albeit very shortly, too. Just a sudden kick in the butt, nothing more.  Perhaps that’s the difference between being right above the epicenter or feeling it remotely.

I jumped on Twitter, and I was among the first few to report the quake.  Within seconds there were dozens, then hundreds of reports.

Not that it was a surprise, we’ve seen Twitter become the primary initial news source be it earthquakes, fires, military coups…etc.  (For a while Google thought I was some  earthquake expert simply because I pointed out Twitter was the first to report quakes in Japan and China.)  But clearly, not all information on Twitter is reliable, as was the case of the fake LA earthquake video.

Wee need both speed and reliablity.  The first comes from the crowd – nothing can beat having millions of “reporters” on the field, wherever, whenever significant events happen.  But we typically do expect some form of verification, be it a traditional news agency, or in the case of earthquakes often USGS, the US Geological Survey.  Until recently the information flow was one-way.  But after yesterday’s quake I found an interesting link to the Google Maps mashup above. It’s created by @usgsted, the  USGS Twitter Earthquake Detector. Here’s the explanation:

In this exploratory effort, the USGS is developing a system that gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from the social networking site Twitter and applies place, time, and quantity data to provide geo-located earthquake detection within 60 seconds of an event’s origin time. This approach also provides a central directory of short first-impression narratives and, potentially, photos from people at the hazard’s location.

Social Internet technologies are providing the general public with anecdotal earthquake hazard information before scientific information has been published from authoritative sources.  People local to an event are able to publish information via these technologies within seconds of their occurrence. In contrast, depending on the location of the earthquake, scientific alerts can take between 2 to 20 minutes. By adopting and embracing these new technologies, the USGS potentially can augment its earthquake response products and the delivery of hazard information.

To be fair, the USGS has not been entirely deaf even before: once you locate the relevant quake info (which is quite an achievement in itself) there is a Did You Feel It? link where if you are really persistent, you can provide feedback.  The form is asking for a lot of data, takes a while to finish – enough to deter most.  Which is why the fact the USGS is now embracing Twitter is a major milestone: it combines the speed of crowdsourced reporting with the verification / authority of experts.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve )


LA Earthquake: Twitter Reports First – Again. Fake Video Caught.

Google thinks I am an earthquake expert simply because I pointed out Twitter was the first to report the recent earthquakes in Japan and China.

Today the same happened: Twitter was on fire with user reports of the Los Angeles earthquake 9 minutes before the first AP wire came out.

It’s an undeniable trend – but is it important?

I received some flak in comments to the previous two posts, for neglecting to mention that I was comparing apples to oranges.  New agencies have the responsibility to verify information and it takes time. Reliability over Speed.   Fair enough.  ReadWriteWeb asked the question: Did Twitter Really ‘Outshine’ the Mainstream Press?

The only thing Twitter does better than the traditional news is speed. It doesn’t do depth, it doesn’t do fact-checking, it doesn’t do real reporting. It does breaking news, and it does that very well — in many cases these days better than the mainstream press (in terms of how fast it breaks news).

Very well said, and I think we need both: speed and depth.   Ironically, MG Siegler’s post @ VentureBeat describing twitter’s power in such situations provided an example for the opposite by including what appeared to be the very first video footage of the LA quake.

I watched it without sound first, but was immediately suspicious:

I wonder what this video shows. It’s NOT the building shaking. The movement is too fast, and it’s inside the room, relative to the window frames  we see. It looks more like a camera quickly moved left and right.
If this was an indication of how the building moved, we’d see a lot less movement behind the window (inside) and a lot more outside.

It did not take long to get confirmation on Venturebeat:

Update 2: The 12seconds vid was fake, posted after the fact, a co-founder of 12seconds confirmed.

So there you have it.  People do take advantage of the relative naivete of social media and don’t hesitate to post fake news to gain 5 minutes of fame.   But that doesn’t undermine the importance of speed, which in some cases can provide early alerts and potentially save lives.  We need both.

Related posts: CNET, Twitter Blog, Valleywag, Brij’s One More Idea ,, LA Times blog, Live Digitally.


Earthquake in Japan. Twitter Reports First – Again

A few days ago a 7.2 magnitude Earthquake in China was first reported by several Twitter users, and only got picked up by the news agencies 20 or so minutes later.   Today it’s happening again:

地震!Earthquake in Tokyo!

27 minutes ago from Zooomr Icon_star_empty

Reported by Kristopher Tate on Twitter.  No news agencies reported it yet. Google blog search reveals one post:

March 24
I am sitting her at home in Shimoakatsuka, Itabashi-ku , Tokyo and I just felt an earthquake at about 12:41pm! Did anyone else feel the earthquake?

So it’s twitter and a single blog post.

The USGS site has the precise information: magnitude 5.3 Monday, March 24, 2008 at 03:40:13 UTC Honshu, Japan.

Still nothing on news wires.

Update:  Still nothing on the majors, but the Times of India and the Trend News Agency, Azerbaijan report it now.  Perhaps we need to redefine what a major news agency is smile_sad


Earthquake in China – Twitter Beats News Services

Scobleizer @dotBen says there was just a big earthquake in Chine and it’s not yet on BBC’s site.

the above came from Twitter.  The news is nowhere to be found on Google or Google News either.  If true (hope not…), twitter just beat the major news services again.


A weird co-incidence, I just read this earlier today:

Report: Next major earthquake on Hayward fault will be catastrophic


Update: here’s the USGS report, and the first news from Fox News – still nowhere else.

Update #2:  It’s on Reuters now.

Update #3: It hit (no pun intended) CNN now.

Update #4:  I don’t normally lose it, but I can’t believe such idiots existChinese EarthQuake Hits 7.4: Karma for Tibet Violence.  Jerk. smile_angry (pardon my French).