Google’s Disaster Alerts Will Now Include Tweets From the Affected
Google announced Tuesday that its public disaster alerts in Google Now, Search and Maps will include relevant Tweets. When Google issues a public alert via one of its products, as a weather or other natural disaster-related PSA, it will now include tweets that help give people more context about what’s happening in their own areas. This also seems to represent a small, but perhaps significant, step in bringing Twitter data back into Google products.
The announcement itself on Google+ was relatively minor. It simply noted where tweets may appear, and gave examples of the kinds of things they might be used for.
Starting today, you can find relevant data from Twitter on a subset of Google Public Alerts. We launched Public Alerts to provide updates from official sources, such as the National Weather Service, via Google Now, Search, and Google Maps. Now, some of the more extreme Public Alerts will include Tweets to help answer important questions: are schools closing? Are neighbors evacuating? What are people seeing on the front lines of a storm?
The low-key announcement looks a bit like a rapprochement between Google and Twitter, or at least a tacit admission that their products work better together. Way back in 2011, the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement to let Google continue to use Twitter’s firehose data. The deal collapsed publicly in spectacular fashion, and Google subsequently shuttered Realtime Search.
Twitter declined to comment on the news, but a Google spokesperson tells WIRED that the tweets are sourced via Twitter’s public API and not the “firehose,” or real-time data stream. Google also reiterated that for now, tweets are only going to be used in public alerts and crisis responses, and there are no plans to bring back Twitter-powered real-time search or to use Tweets in other ways.
Still, there are lots of interesting things about Tuesday’s announcement. The first is simply that Google is using tweets to power one of its products again, even if it doesn’t have immediate plans to expand that scope. It’s also curious to see that there aren’t any Facebook results in public alerts — perhaps explained by the strong partnership Facebook enjoys with Bing — although Google notes that it is looking at all sorts of other social products it can use. Finally, it seems like a tacit admission that there isn’t enough of a real-time conversation taking place on Google+ for it to be able to use that network as the sole source for public alerts.
In any case, it’s a nice move from Google. If its goal is to put truly timely information in front of people when they need it most, Twitter is the best place for that, new deal or not.
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