If there's one thing that Twitter is engineered for, it's providing a large volume of information in real-time. If you don't know what I mean, click on a trending topic and watch the tweets roll in. Sometimes, it's dizzying trying to keep up with the pressurized firehose that is a tweet stream.
Admittedly, not all of this information is important or even relevant in any way. That's kind of what's great about Twitter, though. In the same medium, there are thousands of tweets about an uprising in the Middle East, or new about the U.S. Presidential race flowing at the exact same time as thousands of tweets about Justin Bieber's new single.
Twitter has found a true purpose when it comes to natural disasters, as we've seen the service used as a real-time news feed, message board, and SOS dispatch for people stuck in earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis around the world. Twitter knows this, and has just announced a new feature called "Lifeline."
According to the Twitter blog, it's a "new feature for Japanese users that helps people there find critical information when the need it most."
To find and follow essential local accounts in Japan, people simply search their postal code on twitter.com. If there’s an earthquake in the Aobadai district of Yokohama, for instance, people can use Lifeline to find a variety of timely accounts — those tweeting about the earthquake and sharing updates from the district (Aobadai), city (Yokohama), and prefecture (Kanagawa) governments; they can also find accounts from local media and utility companies providing information about gas, water or electricity. Of course, Japanese users can also set up notifications to receive Tweets from these accounts on their mobile devices.
It appears that the Lifeline will function similarly to Twitter's recently-unveiled event pages, which organize the most relevant tweets surrounding events when users enter certain search terms.
Lifeline was launched by Twitter's Tokyo team, and is currently only available to Japanese users. They say that they hope to expand it worldwide in the future.
During the Japanese earthquakes of 2011, Twitter reported a 500% spike in Tweets coming from the country. With Lifeline, that giant volume of information can be streamlined, making it easier for crisis victims to find the help they need.