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In some ways, it's a marriage made in heaven: an earthquake and one of the latest geek social networks. When a magnitude-5.4 quake struck near Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, there were messages being posted to the Twitter network before the rumbling and swaying of buildings had even stopped. The message that seems to have been the first, from a computer-science student named Vixy, said simply: "earthquake." Other messages were a little more elaborate (none was overly wordy, since Twitter restricts messages to just 140 characters).

In one case that made it onto several news websites, a woman in Los Angeles posted about how the quake came at the same time as a particularly awkward moment in her gynecologist's office. The Associated Press, meanwhile, didn't have a headline about the quake until 10 minutes after Vixy sent her first Twitter message.

In May, a magnitude-7.8 quake hit China, and some of the first reports appeared on Twitter, before the U.S. Geological Survey had even confirmed the quake. And when wildfires swept through California last October, a group of social scientists found that the service did a better job of getting information out than traditional news outlets or emergency agencies.

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Twitter's brevity and informal nature mean that reports can't be easily checked for accuracy. But its speed and hyper-connectivity give Twitter an almost unparalleled ability to distribute real-time information.

For more details and links, please see the Ingram 2.0 blog at

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