A social media idea dubbed "Tweak the Tweet" earned University of Colorado at
Boulder graduate student Kate Starbird
second place in a national technology competition focused on improving
communication during disasters.
"Random Hacks of Kindness"
event, held last month in Mountain View, California, was sponsored by
Starbird's winning idea proposed using Twitter to facilitate communications
between citizens and emergency workers during a crisis. Emergency organizations
responding to a disaster such as a fire or flood could put out Twitter messages,
called "tweets", urging followers to tweet using a specific format and
conventions so that real-time information about the incident is conveyed in a
way that is useful to both emergency crews and the general public, Starbird
"The idea requires no new technology whatsoever," said Starbird, a National
Science Foundation graduate fellow who is pursuing her doctorate in technology,
media and society in CU's ATLAS program. "A person just has to slightly alter
how they're putting down their message in terms of the language they're using.
By formatting the information a little differently, it helps automate the
processing and aggregation of those messages."
Through consistent use of "hashtags," "retweets" and other formatting
guidelines, Starbird said emergency workers could use messages from the public
to communicate information about shelter locations and to develop maps showing
the location and movement of a fire or a flood.
Starbird, a former Stanford All-American and
professional basketball player,
conceived of "Tweak the Tweet" during the two-day event, which brought together
computer programmers from across the country to develop tools for improved
emergency response communication. While most teams stayed up all night
developing their ideas, Starbird's brainchild came to her just two hours before
she had to present it, during a conversation with fellow event participant
Jeannie Stamberger of Mountain View.
"We paired Jeannie's idea to use technology to train citizens on the ground to
provide information during an emergency with my idea to use an existing
technology (Twitter) and existing behavior within that technology,"
Starbird said. The team won second place in the competition for the idea,
which Starbird described as unique because it considered both technology and
human behavior in its solution.
Starbird and fellow CU graduate student Aaron Schram attended
the event on behalf of Project EPIC
(Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis), a $2.8 million National
Science Foundation grant project focused on disaster and technology for
civilian use. CU-Boulder received $2.4 million of the grant.
Starbird said "Tweak the Tweet" builds on the research done by
Computer Science Assistant Professor Leysia Palen
and others at CU on how
people use social media to communicate during a crisis. Palen agreed, saying
"Kate's idea is terrific -- and it comes out of a whole orientation that we
have on this grant. We're trying to find high-tech and low-tech solutions for
advancing emergency response, and bringing graduate students, undergraduate
students and faculty together from different disciplines is what makes these
Project EPIC is submitting a paper on "Tweak the Tweet" for possible
publication. Starbird intends to further develop the idea as well as
complementary technologies that would allow the practice to be implemented
in a crisis event in the near future.
The text of this article was provided by the University of Colorado Boulder
Office of Media Relations and News Services.