During and after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan this Friday, local phone networks became overloaded. Not just because of damage to infrastructure, but mainly because the networks simply couldn’t handle the flood of calls and text messages that followed.
This kind of overload is basically what happens around midnight at New Year’s Eve, only much worse, because everyone was worried about family and friends and wanted information as soon as possible.
Internet connections, however, continued to work for the most part, so people turned to social media instead.
Twitter steps in
Twitter is particularly popular in Japan, and highly suited for this kind of communication and information gathering. Soon after the quake hit Japan, 1,200 tweets a minute were coming out of Tokyo. (Source: Tweet-o-meter.)
Twitter Japan also published helpful information both in Japanese and English, which among other things included several specific hashtags that tweeters could use to organize their communication:
- General earthquake information: #Jishin
- Requests for rescue or other aid: #J_j_helpme
- Evacuation information: #Hinan
- Confirmation of safety of individuals, places, etc.: #Anpi
- Medical information for victims: #311care
The chart below from Topsy shows the volume of tweets containing some of these hashtags, including the most common one, #Jishin, the tag for general earthquake information.
The widespread use of Twitter in Japan (where it’s more popular than Facebook) most likely made it truly helpful in this horrible situation.
Of course, people also used other means of communication, like Facebook, Skype, and Japan’s own Mixi social network, so social networks in general should get credit as well.
The global response
Aside from helping the direct communication inside and to and from Japan, there’s another facet of this: spreading the word around the world. To give you an idea of how hot the topic has been over the last few days compared to normal, here’s another Twitter chart from Topsy that shows the explosion in related Twitter activity.
This chart includes all mentions on Twitter, not just inside Japan, and shows the magnitude of communication happening on Twitter. This incident has truly touched people everywhere, and now donation campaigns and hashtags like #prayforjapan are all over the place.
We’d like to close this post with saying that our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this difficult hour. Some of us here at Pingdom have friends in Japan, and it’s been a relief to hear that they are ok. Many others have not been so lucky.
A note about the Twitter charts: Topsy filters tweets according to the following criteria, “We only show those mentions within Twitter that are significant and valid. Significant to us means a tweet that’s been retweeted or contains a link. Valid means we’ve removed any bots or spammy sources.”