Home Tweak the Tweet: New Twitter Hashtag Syntax for Sharing Information During Catastrophes

Tweak the Tweet: New Twitter Hashtag Syntax for Sharing Information During Catastrophes

As we reported last week, groups of hackers from all around the world got together this weekend to find ways to help Haiti and to create tools that can be used in future disasters. One of these groups, in collaboration with Project EPIC, developed a new syntax to make it easier for computers to read tweets from areas that are affected by a disaster. If adopted widely, this new hashtag-based syntax will make it easier to automatically extract data about locations or the status of a road or person.

A vast number of status updates from Haiti were posted on Twitter in the last few days. As Chris Messina pointed out in a discussion on the Activity Streams mailing list earlier today, the lack of standardized metadata means that we currently have little choice but to use stopgap mechanisms like this new hashtag-based syntax to syndicate this kind of information into a computer-readable form.

Main Tags

  • #need [explain the needs using the appropriate keywords below]
  • #offering or #offer or #have [explain what you have using appropriate keywords below]
  • #imok [name]
  • #ruok [name]
  • #trapped [name]
  • #injured [name]
  • #open [write what is open, a road? a hospital? a store?]
  • #closed [write what is closed? a road? a shelter?]

How Does it Work

The new syntax is pretty easy to learn. Every tweet should contain at least one main tag like #need [explain need], #offering or #injured [name]. You can find a full list of main tags here. In addition, tweets can also have data tags like #name [name], #loc [location] or #contact [email, phone etc.]. These tweets can also contain often-used keywords that don’t need the hashtag sign like food, supplies, road, hospital or help.


Here are some real-world examples of this new syntax being used in Haiti:

  • #haiti #need security #loc General Hospital PAP #contact @thehatian
  • #haiti #need water #loc Orphanage Foyer de Sion #contact @robinbauer #src @AnnCurry
  • Can you deliver beans rice water to orphanage? #Haiti #Need Food #Contact: @childhopeintl #Loc: Delmas 75, Rue Cassagnol #14, PaP BLESS YOU

We aren’t aware of any tools that read these tweets yet, but it’s easy to imagine a Google Maps mashup that can show the locations of where people need help.

If you would like to help the Project EPIC and Crisis Camp teams out, have a look at the groups’ website, which lists a number of ways to get involved in this project, ranging from translating tweets into the new hashtag format, to building applications that can collect the data from these tweets.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.