Tracking #Sandy on Twitter: RIT boffins create realtime geo-tagged tweet tracker.

As usual for those of us on Twitter, our news feeds are the place to which we find ourselves glued in the Hurricane Sandy crisis. From useful information, to sometimes even more useful humor to words of encouragement and word that our friends and family are ok, Twitter provides instantaneous, ad hoc community that is simultaneously both in and out of danger. But two masters students at Rochester Institute of Science went a little farther in showing just how global concern for Sandy’s victims really is:

Currently, the app pins a tweet regarding Hurricane Sandy on the world map and displays it for 10 seconds. It then stores the message and location in a database, before displaying the next tweet.

“We want to collect a timeline of tweets from Sandy’s start to finish,” Williams says. “If everything holds up, we’ll have stored up to 150,000 geo-located tweets by the end of Oct. 30.”

The project is powered by tapping into Twitter’s public timeline and searching for tweets that have specific terms or hashtags. Since Twitter allows users to “geo-tag” their tweet – to give the precise geographical location they’re at when sending a tweet – the Sandy mapper is able to determine where on the planet each corresponding tweet comes from and place it on the world map. As new tweets come up, the map pans from location to location. The system isn’t always perfect: for example, someone who writes a tweet about “Sandy” as in someone named Sandy might appear on the map, even though they have nothing to do with the storm.

Check out the project yourself. My only request might have been that they embed Twitter Intents to the results, so you could RT a few. Very fascinating to just watch as tweets come up, regardless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hit the “publish” button on this post and quickly snap back over there to see it!

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.