Thoughts on web programming and the world of technology

June 02, 2010, reading time: about one minute

Twitter Success Story - Hurricane Bill

Beginners often find Twitter very confusing and useless. I think it’s because they come to it with some preconceived ideas, and when Twitter doesn’t fit their model they get frustrated. This series is meant to show why Twitter is so useful and how it’s different from other social networks.

My family and I live in the city of Aberdeen in Scotland. My wife is originally from Halifax, Canada where her parents still live. In August of last year, there was a hurricane threat to the Halifax area. The hurricane was slowly making its way up the coast towards Halifax, and was to strike the city around 8:00AM on a Sunday morning. Naturally, we were in touch with my in-laws and kept checking news sites for updates.

However, as you might expect the news companies were closed (or at least on limited staff) on that Sunday morning. We googled and googled and couldn’t find any updates on the hurricane. Did it hit the city? Is it serious? Has electricity been cut off?

Twitter is a source of real-time information. With the right query, you can get updates and news just about anything. So, I searched for “hurricane bill halifax” and just watched the tweets come in. At first, there wasn’t much. But as time went by, people started talking about the hurricane. Some were saying that the sky is a bit darker, some were seeing a little rain, etc. I even found one user who actually went to the Halifax harbour to watch the hurricane come in. He was posting images from his cell phone to show us what the weather was like.

Thanks to Twitter we were able to follow the development of the hurricane almost minute by minute. In the end, there wasn’t much of hurricane after all. By the time it got to Halifax, it had reduced to a mere storm.