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Twitter Beats (Wow, By 3 Minutes) The USGS With China Earthquake News
Hey, I like Twitter, but this entire thing Robert Scoble started about how
Twitter had news of the Chinese earthquake before the US Geological Survey
seemed absurd. Did it really? As it turns out, probably so — by about three
minutes. Reading some of
the accounts, you’d get the impression Twitter seemed to alert the USGS to
Let’s go to Robert’s blog
post about it:
I reported the major quake to my followers on Twitter before the USGS
Website had a report up and about an hour before CNN or major press started
talking about it. Now there’s lots of info over on Google News.
How did I do that? Well, I was watching Twitter on Google Talk. Several
people in China reported to me they felt the quake WHILE IT WAS GOING ON!!!
The USGS, among other things, has people who work to watch earthquakes full
time. These people, along with the web site itself, have real-time seismometers.
I have no doubt that people on Twitter were fast, talking about it within
seconds of it happening. But the USGS was really slow behind them? According to
If only there were a major news gathering organization to check out the
veracity of such facts. I know, how about the BBC? They have a fairly good
they just enhanced the myth, in my view, that the USGS was somehow way
When I logged on to my desktop Twitter application (sad, I know) it was
alive with Tweets about the earthquake in China. Most of them were from the
celebrated technology blogger Robert Scoble, who is famous, perhaps notorious,
for receiving a Twitter message every second of the day.
He is based in California, but thousands of miles away from the quake he
was providing breaking news about it, linking to sites like the BBC and the
New York Times, even providing a first picture – though how authentic that is
remains to be seen. He now claims that Twitter had the breaking news even
before the United States Geological Survey, which provides early warnings of
I love tracking down real-time earthquake info. I’ve and Search Engine
Land itself have had a couple of posts on them:
- Searching For
- The Midwest
Earthquake & Search Engine Responses
Earthquake Data In Google Earth
In fact, I’ve even been doing things on Twitter about quakes. To those being hit
by them in Reno, I’ve
to what I’m pretty sure is a real-time
them. For a day last week, I also followed
@socalquakes on Twitter after
That’s the USGS itself twittering quakes in Southern California. For those in
Northern California, check out
So really, the USGS blew it? I emailed Robert:
So you seem to be the source of the news that Twitter had info on the China
earthquake faster than the USGS. Can you tell me how you know this? I mean,
where did you look? The USGS has real time reporting, to my knowledge – there
should have automatically been something up just as fast as Twitter, though
you might not have known where to look. Where did you go?
I also included Gary Price of
ResourceShelf, who knows more about online earthquake resources than
virtually anyone. Robert wrote back:
The USGS site is almost always three to five minutes behind quakes. It was
the same way in Mexico City. People reported the quake on Twitter, I look at
the USGS Web site to see if there’s any info there, and it takes a couple of
minutes to show up. I definitely beat the USGS by a minute (and I was two
minutes behind the first Twitterer’s last night).
And Gary came back with:
I receive real-time earthquake info directly from the USGS with email
alerts. Today, I received several "OFFICIAL" reports (vs. people saying there
was an earthquake on Twitter*) before ABC NEWS and DOW JONES reported the
Two of them are included below. They arrive as email messages. *Also RSS is
available (perhaps this is what twitter is using??)
ARRIVED AT 6.28 AM EDST
== PRELIMINARY EARTHQUAKE REPORT ==
***This event supersedes event AT00057368.
Region: EASTERN SICHUAN, CHINA
Geographic coordinates: 31.084N, 103.266E
Magnitude: 7.5 Mw
Depth: 10 km
Universal Time (UTC): 12 May 2008 06:28:00
Time near the Epicenter: 12 May 2008 14:28:00
Local standard time in your area: 12 May 2008 06:28:00
Location with respect to nearby cities:
95 km (59 miles) WNW (303 degrees) of Chengdu, Sichuan, China
146 km (91 miles) (256 degrees) of Mianyang, Sichuan, China
173 km (108 miles)
NNW (346 degrees) of Leshan, Sichuan, China
1149 km (714 miles) NNW (347 degrees) of HANOI, Vietnam
Region: EASTERN SICHUAN, CHINA
Geographic coordinates: 31.155N, 103.825E
Magnitude: 5.7 Mb
Depth: 10 km
Universal Time (UTC): 12 May 2008 06:54:18
Time near the Epicenter: 12 May 2008 14:54:18
Local standard time in your area: 12 May 2008 06:54:18
[snipped rest of alert]
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Here’s a timeline of first Tweets. USGS didn’t post any info about quake
until about a minute after my first Tweet:
I was refreshing the USGS page every 10 seconds until news appeared. It was
very important news, too, because most of the reports we were hearing were
And Gary countered:
Robert: I see your point. But I would argue that the USGS needs another
minute or tw0 [sic] to process the information before releasing it (magnitude,
location, etc.) The first few reports did not have the information (from what
I see) on Tweeter.
Would you agree?
Btw, NEWSNOW, the awesome news service from the UK,
has a steady stream of news reports from around the globe updated every 5
And Robert responded:
Yes, you are correct.
Twitter is just the signal to look at the USGS Web site for more info. Once
we knew the location of the quake then we could guage [sic] how important someone’s
info was (based on where they were located).
Of course, remember, in the 1989 quake I was 10 miles from epicenter. Major
damage happened not there, but 60 miles away in SF. So even that data will be
So congrats, Twitter. You beat the USGS by three minutes. I don’t take away the
value of Twitter as a communication tool, not at all. But I think the USGS and
other reporting agencies out there deserve a little reassurance, as well.
Especially for when verified (that’s also kind of important — the earth moves
for reasons other than earthquakes) information of earthquakes worldwide is
promised by the USGS through various
within 30 minutes, being a minute behind seems pretty quick to me.