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Tweeting at a Conference: The Magic of a Hashtag

16 Apr

With the mammoth task of Storifying #EGU2013 this week, I’m wondering just how useful social media, particularly Twitter, has become at conferences.

While having a hashtag for a conference with 4,684 oral, 8,207 poster, and 452 PICO presentations (#EGU2013) won’t give you an insight into what’s going on in all the sessions – there’s simply too much science – it provides a guide to what’s happening next (as speakers share their sessions) and is an indicator of the “hot topics” as multiple media-savvy participants share their experience of particular sessions. More importantly though, it gives people attending the conference an opportunity to interact and extend their discussion online.

When there’s over 3,800 tweets on the #EGU2013 hashtag during the General Assembly, curating a scintillating story that also falls into the category of ‘short and sweet’ no longer seems achievable. But do we need it? Perhaps it’s better to preserve the discussion that surrounds topical sessions such as the Great Debate on fracking and shale gas (Storify to come – watch this space!) and short courses, which can then be used as a resource for hints and tips later.

Just a sample from #EGU2013 (click for larger).

While making something public via Twitter can bring up the subject of potentially being “scooped” on science before it’s published. At a conference you are already communicating your work externally, so this is not an issue. Instead, it presents an opportunity to communicate your research with the wider public and scientific community. Here are some of the benefits:

Enriched discussions

Twitter provides opportunities for a much richer discussion during a conference – not only are you listening to the speaker’s insights on a topic, but you can tune in to the knowledge and experience of others in the audience. The knowledge gathered in a scientific conference is phenomenal and in the case of the EGU General Assembly, having over 11,000 brilliant scientific minds at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you ask a question?! Okay, so they aren’t all on Twitter, but the chance of a well-informed reply is high, so it’s still worth asking!

Remote participation

To add to the already enriched discussion, when something is being broadcast on Twitter, anyone can follow the goings on – be it the colleagues you left back in the lab, the geologist whose fieldwork clashed with the event, or the interested twitterer, who happens upon the hashtag! If a talk is being live tweeted (someone is tweeting updates about the speaker’s presentation) then it’s even easier for others to participate in the conference online and ask their own questions of the audience and the speaker.

Leaving a legacy

So we have a rich discussion, that involves members of the audience and connects with the wider public, potentially sharing the science with individuals across the globe – is there more to gain from a conference Twitter feed? Yes. The online discussion can be condensed and curated using Storify, which leaves a legacy of the discussion that people can return to later. Take the #EGUjobs session for example, Sarah Blackford and Helen Goulding gave an excellent talk on how to apply for jobs both in and out of academia last week and you can return to their recommendations here.

What did you gain from the conference Twitter feed? Fancy more of the same next year? Less? Or an even bigger online presence in 2014? Leave a comment below, or include it in the conference feedback form and we’ll do our best to make it a reality. 

Sci Comm at the 2013 General Assembly

27 Mar


GeoLog will be updated regularly throughout the General Assembly, highlighting some of the meeting’s most interesting sessions, workshops and lectures as well as featuring interviews with scientists attending the Assembly.

Writers from the EGU Blog Network will also be posting about interesting research and sessions during the Assembly, so you can catch up on any sessions you’ve missed and get a feel for what’s going on in the press room through them!

As in previous years, the EGU will be compiling a list of General Assembly related blogs (the blogroll) and making them available through GeoLog.  If you would like to contribute to GeoLog, add your blog to the blogroll, or join the EGU Blog Network please contact Sara Mynott at


Participants can keep updated with General Assembly goings on by following the EGU twitter account (@EuroGeosciences) and the conference hashtag (#egu2013). You can also direct questions to the EGU communications staff and other participants using #egu2013, or by tweeting to @EuroGeosciences directly.

Some sessions also have their own hashtag including the Great Debate (GDB1; #eguFrack), the Union Session on Curiosity (US2; #eguMars), how to apply for a job (SC9/EOS13;#eguJobs), and how to use blogs and social media in scientific research (SC8/EOS12; #eguSMedia). Make sure to tag your tweets accordingly if you are posting about these sessions!


And other social media!

While these will be the main media streams during the Assembly, you can also follow the European Geosciences Union on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to keep up with us there!

Using social networks to respond to earthquakes

21 Feb

Effective responses to natural disasters require the rapid acquisition of information about where has been affected, how many people are in the affected areas and what the magnitude of the damage is. This information is critical in both disaster and emergency rescue management. Indeed, the first three days after the onset of a disaster has been dubbed the “72-hour golden rescue period”, after which the survival rate of victims sharply declines. With this in mind, the need for rapid data collection could not be more evident.

Aerial photography is a useful tool in determining which areas have been affected by an earthquake, but resolution may not always be adequate to determine the damage to buildings and infrastructure within them. For this, satellite technology provides a helping hand. For example, the spectral characteristics of a building can be used to determine whether or not it has been structurally damaged. There is, however, a time delay associated with gathering and analysing satellite data and it is ineffective for more minor quakes. More importantly though, these tools provide no indication of the number of people affected within these areas beyond the assumed population density (affected rural land is likely to have fewer people immediately at risk than in an affected urban area).

Building collapse as a result of the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake [Source: Wikimedia Commons].

So what options do we have for gathering this information in semi-real time (within the golden rescue period)? If mobile phone communications are not affected, information sent via text messages can provide fundamental support for search and rescue teams. Currently, the China Earthquake Administration has a platform designed to receive short text and voicemail messages about disasters using the number 12322. The problem lies in the rapid extraction of the most relevant details from these messages, so that useful information can be disseminated to people on the ground.

This is where Dr Jing Hai Xu and his team come in, as they have developed a method of using text messages to report and disseminate disaster information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyse and extract details relevant to search and rescue teams.

The network is separated into country level, provincial level, and city level, with the smallest components being streets within a town or city. One reporter is enough to include the impact on a particular location in the disaster information network. One downside of the model, though, is that the reporters need to be formal local government employees. Whilst this measure is proposed to increase the reliability of reports, it vastly reduces the number of people that can feed into the network. Perhaps an alternative way of addressing the problem of reliability would be to only include information in the network after multiple reports of a similar incident are received from the same area. Here we are faced with new problems: what constitutes one area? Will reports of the same event from different observers be sufficiently similar to be picked up in the network? This also requires the contact details of the disaster network to be disseminated to a greater proportion of the population… perhaps Xu et al.’s approach is an effective one after all!

Now that that’s decided – how does it work? Principally, there are two kinds of nodes that help the network function: 1) edge nodes, these are the people responsible for reporting disaster information, and 2) central nodes, which correspond to the central earthquake office within each city and are responsible for collecting and disseminating information. After an earthquake, the city earthquake office (central node) contacts the reporters (edge nodes), asking for information about the impact of the disaster where they are. This information is fed back to the office and these central nodes pass the information on to the provincial offices and then on to the country’s government office so that appropriate action can be taken.

Having a simple code for different impacts helps collate useful information. In this model, the first number indicates the type of damage (e.g. 4 for damage to buildings) and the second indicates the severity (with 1 being low severity and 5 being high). So the code for a few damaged buildings would be 42, or 44 for a large quantity of damaged buildings, with some partially collapsed, etc. Here are the other codes:

Earthquake disaster information codes (click to enlarge), [modified from Xu et al., 2013].

The collected information can then be displayed using GIS, a visual mapping program, which will regularly update to incorporate new reports and can be used to effectively inform search and rescue teams. Again, this can be achieved through sending text messages to relay disaster information to teams that are out on site.

Disaster information distribution (level of shaking) from the 2012 Yangzhou earthquake, [modified from Xu et al., 2013].

The only question remaining is how can we manage sending and receiving so many messages? There are 1048 reporters in the Changzhou network alone and handling a volume of messages this large requires something called a mobile agent server (MAS). A MAS is capable of sending nearly 100 messages per second – efficient enough to rapidly collate information following an earthquake and let officials take action. The 150 data principle (part of social network theory) is relevant here. This principle is based on the idea that people cannot stably maintain networks of more than 150 people; for the same reason, disaster management isn’t effective when there are more than 150 people in a network. Thus, reporters in the Changzhou network are subdivided to better relay information about the impacts of earthquakes on local people, buildings and infrastructure.

So there you have it – the key to disaster management success: send an SMS.

By Sara Mynott


Xu, J. H., Nie, G. Z., and Xu, X.: A digital social network for rapid collection of earthquake disaster information, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 385-394, doi:10.5194/nhess-13-385-2013, 2013

New Science Communicator at the EGU Office

23 Jan

Meet the newest member of EGU’s communications team, Sara Mynott! Sara will manage GeoLog and the EGU blog network, run our social media channels, and develop EGU’s networking activities for young scientists.

Hello from the EGU office!

I have just taken on the task of being the EGU’s new social media bod or – if we’re being official – their new Communications Officer.

Sara Mynott is the new Communications Officer at the EGU

After completing a Masters in Environmental Geoscience at the University of Bristol, and a second in Marine Ecology, from Queen Mary University of London I’ve investigated areas such as: the use of microphones to monitor volcanoes; how crustacean fisheries can be managed effectively, and how warming climates may impact the fitness of cold-blooded animals. I can’t wait to spread the wonders of new research further afield.

I also have a keen interest in informal education, having volunteered at many a science festival, school and exhibition centre. Most recently this entailed demonstrating the principles of Newtonian physics using simple toys in a festive invention workshop! Before joining the EGU, I had the pleasure of working for PLoS, which gave me a good grounding in the essentials of open access publishing and the merits of alternative ways to share and discuss research online.

Working with the EGU’s Media and Communications Manager, Bárbara Ferreira, I’ll be sharing all things Geoscience, while contributing to the EGU blog and developing communications with young scientists. With all the tools we have for sharing science, I couldn’t be more excited about the task at hand!

Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions about the EGU or any of its publications – it would be great to hear from you!


Sara Mynott


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