Tracking Hurricane Sandy via Social Media Data

Curtis Chen
Nov. 01 2012, 11:00AM EDT

Where were you when Hurricane Sandy hit, and what were you doing? If you're like many other ProgrammableWeb readers, you weren't watching news reports on TV--you were using social media to keep tabs on your friends and family, and taking advantage of the vast amounts of data available on the Internet to make sense of the situation. Below, a round-up of how Twitter and other online resources helped people get through the record-breaking "super storm."

Though Sandy reached Florida last Friday, October 26th, social media usage really took off once the storm reached Manhattan this week. Though much of the East Coast was without power at some point this week--as shown in Twitter data scientist Edwin Chen's map/timeline mash-up--tech-savvy New Englanders continued using their battery-powered smartphones to broadcast #Sandy updates.

Oxford Internet Institute Director of Research Mark Graham, who helped create a "Geocoded Tweets Mentioning Flooding" visualization, noted that "it is unclear whether the large number of tweets that we pick up in New York City, as compared to other places, reflects the scale of devastation to the city or just means that New Yorkers are more apt to tweet about such an event."

Maps were the API of choice for combining real-time data from various sources. Google's interactive Crisis Response map showed official information from local, state, and federal agencies, plus an option to overlay related YouTube videos (curated by journalism site Storyful). Other organizations offered similar interfaces with different emphases, like community resource software vendor VisionLink's social media map (using Gnip's data aggregation product).

Data sharing skyrocketed on October 29th, when Instagram reported its users were posting new photos "at a rate of nearly 10 each second" and social media management service HootSuite tracked nearly 1.5 million Hurricane Sandy mentionsNew York Times blogger David Carr noted that "Twitter is often a caldron of sarcasm...[b]ut as [Sandy] bore down, Twitter got...very, very serious." As All Things D's Peter Kafka put it, "Twitter...really had its moment [that] night: Best place to get the most information on the Web."

The worst of the storm may be over, but the recovery continues--and the data keeps coming. Get more information about Hurricane Sandy resources on Twitter, stay safe out there, and remember: pics or it didn't happen.

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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[...] Twitter Where were you when Hurricane Sandy hit, and what were you doing? If you’re like many other ProgrammableWeb readers, you weren’t watching news reports on TV–you were using social media to keep tabs on your friends and …More By Curtis C. Chen [...]