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Chattanooga Amateur Radio Club

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Why Tweet?

The following is a “reprint” of a recent post in the CARC Forums:


Social Media’s Serious Uses

Twitter LogoMost everyone that accesses the Internet is aware of and bumps into social media often. Many consider it a frivolous thing which is nothing more than a way to occupy idle time that would have been better spent doing something constructive. On the other hand, many, including our government and business have discovered it can be a highly valuable communications asset. I think it is really both, but for this post, let’s discuss serious uses of social media and in particular, Twitter.

The National Weather Service (NWS) uses social media to receive Storm Spotter-type weather reports via Twitter. Why? Twitter is free, message delivery & notification are nearly instantaneous, it’s available anywhere an Internet connection is available, and it adds millions of more “eyes” to the ranks of those watching for severe weather than just the cadre of about 300,000 officially-trained storm spotters. Though a Twitter-based storm report “tweeted” by someone that is not a trained spotter, may not be quite as consistent or properly worded, it has the major benefit of instantly telling the NWS that something is going on here. So they have a target area to focus on and have a closer look. Sometimes that’s all they need.

Tweets (messages sent via Twitter) are limited to 140 characters. That very limitation, though seemingly way too brief, forces the sender to create a message with well-chosen words or universally-recognized abbreviations (for example “wx” for weather) so what needs to be said, gets said within 140 characters. From a NWS perspective, reading hundreds of tweets to gleam weather info, the 140 character limit is a blessing. For those that a bit “longer in the tooth”, Twitter reminds me a bit of the days of Telexs and TWXs. Though those forms of pure text communications had no real length limit, they did rely heavily on abbreviations. Now guess where those abbreviations came from…CW. Yeah, all CW operators learned from the start that using abbreviations made it easier to get the job done without typing out a book with each transmission.

Tweets can also contain “hashtags” like “#mrxwx”. Hashtags are shortcuts to identifying what the tweet (message) is about. In the case of #mrxwx, that hashtag is used by NWS Morristown to identify weather/storm spotter observations. So when a weather event is expected or underway, NWS simply does a search in Twitter.com for any tweet that contains the hashtag “#mrxwx”. Simple!

Currently, the new club website contains a Twitter feed on the right sidebar of selected pages. For instance check
http://www.w4am.net/wp/w4am/weather-updates  That page has a realtime Twitter feed that is looking for any tweet tagged with “#mrxwx”. So watching this page/feed will show you tweets dealing with weather conditions in the general service area of NWS Morristown. You do not have to have a Twitter account to watch this page or its Twitter feed.  [Editor’s Note:  The Twitter feed mentioned above is available on the page you are reading.  Look to the right.]

Tweeting has also found its way into many automated reporting systems so that a device can now issue tweets without human intervention. For instance, my home weatherstation reports data automatically to various meteorological databases including the NWS. Thanks to an easy retrofit, it now tweets weather data to Twitter on a specified interval. You can see this in action at:

https://twitter.com/ScenicCityWx What you will see is my Davis weatherstation routinely tweeting weather conditions.

As with all Twitter accounts, other Twitter users may choose to “follow” another Twitter account and automatically receive new tweets sent by that person, organization, or device.

So with your own Twitter account you can follow others or others can follow you. If you follow @NWSMorristown, you’ll get tweets from them throughout the day on weather which may affect you.

Tweeting may be done from mobile devices (via apps) or from a PC or Mac via Twitter.com. Mobile device apps often contain high resolution cameras so tweets can contain photos to better illustrate what your tweet is about. The NWS loves photos with tweets! Another often overlooked feature is that most modern mobile device contain GPS or can triangulate the device’s position from cell tower locations. Each photo is geo-tagged with latitude and longitude so the photo can be automatically associated with a Google map to show where it was taken…very neat feature for NWS to have available. For an example of this, visit the new club media sharing website: http://www.carcphotos.net

You will see a Google map with black numbered circles. The circle represents one or more photos taken in that area. Click on the black circle and it will expand to show the individual photos. Now imagine being the NWS and using such mapping tools with photos in the actual places severe weather occurred or is going on…an impressive use of Twitter and geo-coding technology!

So 140 characters or not, Twitter can be a powerful tool to convey information. So if you don’t tweet…why not?

Gary Ownsby
CARC President 2015