Thinking about fring and “Emergency Twitter”

fringsters will be aware that fring has been offering connectvity to twitter for some time.

The fring / Twitter service is easy to use, easy to set up and easy to turn on and off if and when you want to send and receive ‘tweets’. In short, it’s great!

What all fringsters may not be aware of is that there is growing interest in the use of twitter as an emergency communications service. A recent Wired headline sums up the new interest. “In Disasters, Everyone, Not Just Bloggers, Should Use Twitter“.

The following video from American disaster management specialist David Stephenson discusses some of the advanatges of using twitter as an emergency communications tool. YouTube Preview Image
The scenarios described above apply mainly to Twitter services delivered via SMS. The recent Southern California forest fires (see article here ) have attracted attention to the issue, and as an August 2006 interview by Robert Scoble with the Twitter development team showed (see here), Twitter definitely sees, at least, a secondary role for itself in disaster communications. With the Australian bush fire season now upon us this is an issue that could soon be relevant to many Australian readers.

The arguments in favour of the use of Twitter in emergency situations really revolve around the likelihood of voice cell phone network congestion. In a disaster impacted area, numerous users simultaneously attempt to make voice calls overwhelming capacity designed and optimised for ‘normal’ periods. The SMS service (”text messaging”) is less prone to debilitating congestion for two reasons. Firstly the SMS system is based on “store and forward” “half duplex” communications and, unlike voice conversations, does not need a two-way or “full duplex” circuit. (A “half duplex” link can be thought of as a “one way” service, i.e. one user at a time, where “full duplex” is two way, simultaneous communications.) Secondly SMS packets are transmitted in unused ’space’ on a GSM network’s control channel not the ’service’ channels that carry normal voice circuits.

Using fring enabled Twitter would share, at least, the first advantage with SMS enabled Twitter but not necessarily the second. That really depends on local arrangements made by cell phone network service providers. With those caveats in mind, fring could however under many circumstances provide a superior emergency communications channel than voice services which would be the first to be impacted by congestion. During ‘normal’ times however, outside of emergency situations, fring enabled Twitter is (again depending on your mobile service plan) likely to be cheaper and easier to turn on and off than SMS enabled Twitter. This would be especially so for Twitter users who ‘follow’ and receive a large number of incoming tweets.

Worth thinking about.

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