Twitter’s new Lifeline feature lets users find and follow local accounts that upload important information during emergencies. All that’s needed is a postal code, typed into the service, and Twitter will create a list of resources for you. As of right now the feature is only available to Twitter users in Japan, but there are plans to expand Lifeline into other countries. Presumably this expansion will rely on government cooperation and will probably focus first on countries prone to natural disasters.
The new feature generates a list of Twitter accounts actively posting emergency information. This curated list could include city, district, or national government accounts being updated with official announcements important to the public. It won’t be restricted to government, however, and will likely bring attention to local media and utility companies so people in Japan will be informed of service disruptions and breaking news surrounding the event.
Twitter isn’t the first social media site to venture into this field either. Facebook introduced a similar service to Japan earlier in the year, called “Disaster Message Board”, that allows users to indicate whether they are safe during a natural disaster or other emergency situation. Friends and family can then check Facebook to see the status of their loved one, rather than waiting for a phone call or some other form of communication.
These social media features seem to be responding to the announcement from the Department of Homeland Security in the US after last year’s earthquake in Virginia. At the time, it was recommended the public use text messaging, email, Facebook, or Twitter to check up on friends and family, rather than voice calls. The department claimed this would help clear up phone lines crucial to emergency personnel’s response to the disaster.
“Since Twitter often becomes a de facto lifeline during crises everywhere, we hope to eventually expand this functionality to more locations around the world,” Jinen Kamdar, Twitter product manager, told The Next Web.
According to Kamdar, Twitter has entered a partnership with the Prime Minister’s Lifeline Commission, as well as regional governments in Japan. The Lifeline feature hasn’t been used yet, and hopefully it won’t have to be for a very long time, but it seems like a very important addition to Twitter’s growing platform. What do you think of the new feature? How quickly do you think it will spread around the world?