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USGS Develops Twitter-Based Earthquake Detection 95

Posted by samzenpus
from the whole-lotta-shaking-going-on dept.
sprinkletown writes "A team of seismologists at the US Geological Survey has found that Twitter is the fastest way to get information out of an earthquake area, especially in those less densely populated. Seeing the Twitter community as an untapped resource, the USGS has developed a new way to track earthquakes by clustering quake-centric tweets."
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USGS Develops Twitter-Based Earthquake Detection

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  • by eihab (823648) * on Thursday January 07, 2010 @08:35PM (#30689630)

    I've used Twitter's search before (out of desperation) when my wife thought that we had an earth quake and I didn't.

    To my surprise just 3 minutes later (time it took me to exhaust regular search engines), someone tweeted that they're having an earthquake a few miles away from where we live.

    Since that day I've been using Twitter's search to find up to the minute updates for topics that interest me (Intel's SSD firmware bug, conferences, etc.).

    I think Twitter is shaking up to be a very good source of news/information, if you can manage to find gems in the pile of "I just landed. WOOT!" tweets.

    • by eihab (823648) *

      I think Twitter is shaking up...

      Grr.. I need more coffee. That's "is shaping up".

      Or maybe "shaking" with all the earthquake tweets!

    • I think Twitter is shaking up to be a very good source of news/information

      The data, it seems, is quite frugal
      When I type 'earthquake' into searchbar Google
      The info, surprisingly, is much quicker and fitter
      When I hear about it from that obnoxious source Twitter
      Of course, only when anxious I'd do a desperate thing
      And secretly type my query in Bing

    • I completely agree. I have only posted tweets for work purposes (an app we wrote has twitter support.... as everything does these days), but I search on twitter whenever I am trying to figure out up to the minute info on an event.

      For example, a couple of days ago the police had a road near my house blocked off, and with a quick twitter search, I was able to learn that there were police and SWAT teams chasing a burglary suspect, and there were even posted pictures of the guy being taken into custody... all

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @08:37PM (#30689634) Homepage Journal

    Twitter users can be repurposed as sensors for vibration, voltage and even temperature!

    • by IorDMUX (870522)

      Twitter users can be repurposed as sensors for vibration, voltage and even temperature!

      And Walmart sales.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        In theory you could create twitter and facebook user accounts for your servers or even services on the servers.

        Then your stuff around the world could tweet stuff, and other stuff could be following them or even be fans of them.
        e.g.
        twitter
        NOC: @MSExchangeServer @AD1 hey are you guys up?
        MSExchangeServer: @NOC uptime 23:33:05

        or:
        CorpQuiz- "20 ways to know you are a Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise Server" ;).
        AD1's score 20/20
        MSExchangeServer likes this
        RedHatDBServer: lame...

        CorpQuiz- "Group Policies checklist #1"
        AD1'
  • I always knew the whales were going to kill us.
  • Tweeting about earthquakes is hardly new — at least in twitter years. People turned to twitter during an earthquake in Southern California in July, 2008, after they finding they were unable to make or receive any cell phone calls, they could still use twitter via SMS or another mobile twitter app.

    I find this solution to be really silly. After the Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994, no one in the area could even use the phones. There was too many people trying to make calls for anything to work. The earthquake they're referring to was tiny in comparison. People should be looking to a battery based radio or working with their neighbors to figure out what is going on.

    • Even if the phones are jammed up it's possible that SMS texts (to Twitter) can go out because, according to AT&T [att.com][PDF] "Text messages often go through faster than wireless voice calls because they require fewer network resources. Most of AT&T's wireless devices are text- messaging capable."
      • Except text messages are a sort of unintentional hidden feature that was expanded for the masses. Basically it sends them as a part of the control codes that would otherwise normally be sent (for more info find that old /. story about the marginal cost of text messages being zero). This is great because someone figured out how to send messages without having to really update any network infrastructure since it was already in the specs...you just had to put a user friendly UI on the phones.

        The only probl

    • Tweeting about earthquakes is hardly new — at least in twitter years. People turned to twitter during an earthquake in Southern California in July, 2008, after they finding they were unable to make or receive any cell phone calls, they could still use twitter via SMS or another mobile twitter app.

      I find this solution to be really silly. After the Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994, no one in the area could even use the phones. There was too many people trying to make calls for anything to work. The earthquake they're referring to was tiny in comparison. People should be looking to a battery based radio or working with their neighbors to figure out what is going on.

      Except.. they say that instead of phones we should use SMS because it's impact on the wireless network is far lighter (see every ./ article about price gouging at 20 cents per 140 characters). That said, if you are on AT&T and wish to use twitter during an emergency good luck trying to get your slice of bandwidth.

      "Help, my internet is down!"

      • In Australia, the government and emergency services have, this year, implemented SMS alerts to warn people of natural disasters. This is in addition to the traditional methods: TV, commercial FM/AM radio and the national broadcast network. So basically all bases are covered this way. They ran a test earlier this year and it worked beautifully. Basically, since SMS is part of the background traffic for Cell phone, they can broadcast to the state or county or phones connected to individual Cell towers.
        • yeah - but let's not get to carried away about this.

          This season there have been people who received these messages - about a fire that occoured 12 days previously. The carrier technology is interesting, but as the emergency services people who manage the back end systems don't update them they are not what you consider reliable.

          They are making these SMS's spacially aware - they use your billing address to work out where you are located. Unfortunately the billing systems have a habit of aggregating sta

    • by mirix (1649853)
      Bingo. In a real quake, infrastructure to support the mobile phones may get knocked out, and if not, it will surely be overloaded. Radio FTW.
  • Even NPR scooped Slashdot this time:

    From December 14, 2009 [npr.org]

  • A automated, networked, accelerometer-based quake detection process may be more reliable. Sure, a lot of mobile phones would be moving around, but if enough phones in the same areas showed synchronised movements, maybe this could work.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by coaxial (28297)

      A automated, networked, accelerometer-based quake detection process may be more reliable. Sure, a lot of mobile phones would be moving around, but if enough phones in the same areas showed synchronised movements, maybe this could work.

      Those are called "seismographs."

      • by timothyf (615594)

        Additionally, the article specifically mentions that this is useful in cases where seismographs aren't present, and that the data collected through it isn't always stuff that seismographs can report.

    • by Titoxd (1116095)

      A automated, networked, accelerometer-based quake detection process may be more reliable. Sure, a lot of mobile phones would be moving around, but if enough phones in the same areas showed synchronised movements, maybe this could work.

      Are you donating the resources to do that sort of data processing? There are a lot of cell phones out there, so you'd need a way of transmitting and accessing all that data (if you DO have an earthquake in the area, the communications lines will be either down or saturated, so you have to take that into account). Then, you'd need a way of determining which synchronized movements match a pattern, and not just random noise; then, finally, to determine whether the patterns are quake-related or not. (See those

    • There's already such a project underway from Stanford: http://qcn.stanford.edu/ [stanford.edu]. Doesn't extend to phones yet (as far as I know, though they're probably working on it) but will use the accelerometer in MacBooks, Thinkpads, other laptops that may have them, or you can get a USB attachment that has one for desktop computers. Works essentially as you describe.

      Phones might be tough because they move around a lot with the person who carries it, but would be especially useful because if they've got an acceleromet

  • Twitter has also been know for false hits as well though, so how can one prevent such a situation?

    • by timothyf (615594)

      I dunno. Seismographs maybe? ;)

      Seriously though, it's not like earthquakes aren't independently verifiable, and Twitter's usefulness is more as another source of data to mine about an event.

  • by Doug52392 (1094585) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @09:41PM (#30690032)
    This is a really bad idea because Twitter can so easily be utilized to spread misinformation. Look at all the "x is dead!!!!!!!!!!!!" shit that happens with celebrities.
    • I don't think that they are going to use this to announce an earthquake but to determine location and propagation parameters. Their sensors can tell them for certain IF a quake hit long before twitter will say anything but they need to correlate other measurements to get a good location estimation.
  • by upuv (1201447) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @09:49PM (#30690068) Journal

    Seriously. This is the sort of thing twitter is really good at.

    It's not knowing what Britney is eating for breakfast. Or how much a SKANK Malinda next door is. Or how much a bastard Billy is, oh but he's such a hunk. Or what color Aston K's turds are.

    Thank goodness twitter popularity is dying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Facegarden (967477)

      Seriously. This is the sort of thing twitter is really good at.

      It's not knowing what Britney is eating for breakfast. Or how much a SKANK Malinda next door is. Or how much a bastard Billy is, oh but he's such a hunk. Or what color Aston K's turds are.

      Thank goodness twitter popularity is dying.

      OMG, Malinda is SUCH a skank!

  • How long before a group of trolls picks up on this and starts creating false reports?

  • If you're handy with a soldering iron the you should build this nifty Seismic Reflector [instructables.com]. From the website...

    This project has two strands, a software and a hardware component. The aim is to build a device which responds to earthquakes being reported in near-real time via the USGS RSS feeds. The device responds by illustrating the magnitude of the reported earthquake via two fairly chunky vibration motors of the kind used in video game controllers. The device is connected to a PC via a virtual com port over
  • figures they would come up with such a horribly flawed plan. i remmeber the chief geo at a place i worked trying to explain to me how geologists weren't trained to think in uni, and how that's a good thing...
    • I'm not sure what kind of geologist you're referring to but that's a little insulting (IAAG)... there are people who don't learn to think in any field (including all the sciences) but geologists are not systematically not trained to think in university, that's bogus. In fact I'd say we are trained to think more than people in other fields of science, as true understanding of geological concepts is not easily obtained by reading or hearing about them and can't always be mathematically described.

      To be fair, o

  • This is a good news!! This is a step in the right direction. It will help in reducing the loss of life. http://ezinearticles.com/?Force-Factor-Reviews---Do-Force-Factor-Supplements-Work?&id=2921490 [ezinearticles.com]
  • I just wish the earthquake data provided by the USGS was available through a web API. XML, JSON, whatever. I poked around and there's some quake data available through various obscure programs or protocols, but nothing easy to get at. Nothing I could find, anyway. Maybe someone else knows of something more useful?

  • Ironic name (Score:3, Funny)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:27AM (#30691344)
    From the Oxford English Dictionary:

    TWITTER
    ...
    3. intr. To move tremulously, tremble, shake, quiver, shiver...

    So, for an alternative article summary: the USGS will use twitterers on Twitter who are twittering about twittering.

    [cue chorus of groans]

    • From the Oxford English Dictionary:

      TWITTER ...

      3. intr. To move tremulously, tremble, shake, quiver, shiver...

      So, for an alternative article summary: the USGS will use twitterers on Twitter who are twittering about twittering.

      [cue chorus of groans]

      Yeaaaahhhh.... But less funny because you really didn't need the second "twitter", you had to force it. *Of course* the twittering twitterers are on Twitter, its the only place you *can* twitter. "Twitterers twittering about twittering" makes more sense. And actually, It's funnier. Hmm. And yes, I know I am ridiculous.
      -Taylor

      • Thanks for the vote of (qualified) confidence. But since we're all being ridiculous, I should point out a minor flaw.

        But less funny because you really didn't need the second "twitter", you had to force it. *Of course* the twittering twitterers are on Twitter, its the only place you *can* twitter.

        From the OED again:

        TWITTERER
        A bird that twitters; also transf. of a person.

        For example:

        1834 R. MUDIE Feathered Tribes Brit. Isles (1841) I. 2 When the forest howls to its fury, driving the twitterers from the spray. 1890 O. CRAWFURD Round Calendar in Portugal 178 Several feeble-winged twitterers. 1895 J. G. WOOLLEY in Voice (N.Y.) 17 Oct. 2/1 A mere twitterer of lackadaisical platitudes.

        etc.

        Though it may be heresy to say such a thing on the internet, "twitterer" actually meant something before the online service existed. Hence, there are other places and ways for birds and even people to "twitter." And I don't even have to go into the many meanings of "twitter," even the ones applicable to people, which can vary from chattering to gigglin

  • I've been thinking that if there is a really big one, we'll see a "donut" pattern when you map the data.

    This mornings 4.1 (which I felt) was exciting, and tweet-worthy. The BIG ONE will not be tweeted near the epicenter. The power will go out. Even if it doesn't go out, you'll have better things to do.

    Eventually the power would come back on and the hole would fill in; but I would think that the existance of the hole in the data would be one indicator of how strong the quake really is.

    Has this ever been

  • Shakin' it over here Boss, Shakin' it over here!

  • This a really very good use of twitter.

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

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