Friday, January 28, 2011

USGS asks citizen scientists "What's happening?"

Yesterday, Kara Capelli, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, joined my "Government 2.0" at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University via Skype video call. Kara shared her insights on the use of social media applications at USGS and specifically on the very innovative use of their Twitter accounts.

USGS's social media strategy includes the use of Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds and blogs, podcasts, photosharing on Flickr and Facebook accounts.

One account among the long list of social media accounts is especially remarkable: The USGSted account - Twitter Earthquake Detector (TED) - asks so-called "citizen scientists" what is happening in their geographic location. USGS automatically searches tweets for hashtags such as #earthquake and compiles the tweets on a Google Map mashup - geotagging tweets to understand where in the world citizens feel the earth shaking. The large number of tweets then makes it worthwhile to pay attention to specific geographic locations around the world where earthquake activities might happen. One example is the recent earthquake in Pakistan.

At USGS, the tweets are obviously not used as a scientific method - and will certainly never replace science. Instead, they are used as a way to collect citizen feedback, sentiments or indicators of potential damages. Going forward, the tool might have the potential to help emergency responders to find affected citizens, as a method to create social awareness among neighborhood networks, to understand how resilient citizens are or even as a tool for neighborhood responsiveness.

The USGSted account was recently selected as Twitter's only government showcase (URL was removed from Twitter's homepage this week, will update as soon as it is back online).

Additional press coverage:

Government Computer News: Earthquakes are something to tweet about
Business Insider: Twitter-based Earthquake Detection System in Development
Christian Science Monitor: Earthquake alerts: shake, rattle, and Twitter

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed Kara's explanation of the USGS ted account, and I find the agency's work in social media to be very cutting edge. I think that Kara also had two important lessons for public administrators: 1. If government agencies don't get involved in social media, false accounts can emerge that use and manipulate the identity of the organization, and 2. Government agencies can counter false information by closely monitoring social media, detecting bogus claims, and providing information to counter the claim.