Meet the Twitter Engineer Who Boosted the Platform's Life-Saving Value in Weather Emergencies
In his first interview since quitting, Jim Moffitt, aka @Snowman, explores how the public-service value of Twitter can be sustained there or elsewhere.
The question on the floor: Can the public value of Twitter be sustained there or replicated elsewhere?
My guests: Twitter Developer Relations engineer (just departed) Jim Moffitt (@snowman) and Andrea Thompson (@AndreaTWeather), the sustainability editor at Scientific American
Extreme events at Twitter and in the climate
The tsunami of impacts from Elon Musk’s ongoing Twitter takeover will be unfolding for months to come.
One deep concern I and others have reported on in recent days is whether public awareness and responsiveness during extreme weather events and other environmental emergencies could be impeded if Twitter’s functionality erodes.
Some folks push back, saying radio, TV and weather websites do fine. But many of those outlets increasingly rely on social media for timely citizen-supplied updates and imagery. And Twitter has unique properties you’ll learn about in this webcast.
I alway find it worth recalling that the first active hashtag was #sandiegofire as deadly brushfires exploded around San Deigo in 2007. (Read a fine account of that moment by Simon Piatek (@sjpiatek).*
There’s a less obvious side to Twitter in emergencies - the fount of real-time data it can provide.
Twitter’s API (essentially the interface where data can be harnessed for outside analysis) has spawned a host of apps and tools charting flash flooding and other extreme events in ways that can’t be replicated with data from platforms like Facebook.
A key force building that capacity has been Twitter engineer Jim Moffitt, who came to the company years ago after independently developing several extreme-weather apps. Sadly, he just quit last week, leaving along with hundreds of others who were either fired or didn’t want to stay on given Musk’s heavy-handed moves.
There’ve been a lot of Twitter farewells by the developer relations crew.
Today’s Sustain What webcast is Jim’s first interview since his departure.
We’ll be joined by Andrea Thompson, the sustainability editor at Scientific American. She wrote an excellent story last week that is a must read:
My goal in this chat is to find out whether Jim thinks Twitter is a lost cause, and, if not, how to sustain and build the capacities for using #TwitterForGood - particularly in emergencies.
We’ll also discuss whether he sees any other platforms or concepts that could build similar situational awareness and responsiveness.
Please join us if you can so we can address your questions. And please share this post now or later so others can weigh in as well.
And do please subscribe for more of this from me.
As I’ve written previously, I learned about Moffitt’s work after tuning in last April to a seminar on harnessing Twitter dynamics for community resilience, hosted by Jennifer Marlon (@JMarlonPhD) of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
He walked through a host of examples showing how programmers have, and can, harness the distributed real-time posts of citizens to shape emergency response and more.
Here's the video, which I encourage you to watch when time allows.
But also make sure to explore the page of links Moffitt shared: Listening to Twitter Conversations: Floods, Extreme Weather, and Climate Change.
He also pointed to a page where researchers or practitioners in emergency warning and response can see examples using Twitter activity to track extreme weather:
I found the Indonesian project, called PetaBencana.id, particularly exciting. As the program website explains, "PetaBencana.id provides residents, government agencies, and first responders with a real-time disaster information sharing system at an unprecedented scale. It is the first platform of its kind to harness the power of crowdsourcing through social media to aid humanitarian response and recovery." This video nicely illustrates how this works:
All of what we discuss is highly relevant to the United Nations' goal of spreading extreme-weather early warnings worldwide.
* Correction - In haste I wrote James Piatek above when I meant Simon.