Friday, April 18, 2008

A small, interesting, and potentially more powerful than it is now, example of user-contributed metadata

I was rudely awakened just after 5:30 this morning by an earthquake. The odd thing about this is that I live in Indiana, not exactly a hotbed for such things. This being my first earthquake (does that mean I'm a "survivor"? heh) I got up to look around and turn on the local news. There wasn't anything at all about it on the local news for about ten minutes, and then when it did appear for a long time it was just the anchors saying "We thought we felt an earthquake, but we don't know anything yet. Call us if you thought you felt an earthquake too."

Meanwhile I'd long since found, learned it was a noticeable and scary, but overall pretty routine 5.4 magnitude confirmed earthquake. The cool part (even at 5:45 in the morning) was the "Did you feel it? Tell us!" link. This link led to a form where one reports basic information like your zip code, how long the tremor lasted, and what kind of damage it caused. One question asks if your refrigerator door opened and food fell out. At that point I realized just how minor of an earthquake we'd had! But there are also some really interesting questions in there too - whether you were awake or asleep at the time, your level of fear, and what you did to protect yourself. I wonder what they're doing with this data - I can think of many interesting possibilities. I can think of more possibilities if the USGS were to provide this data for use by others. (Maybe they do - this is very much outside of my area of expertise!) We could have a lot of fun with this one.

Based on the, (ahem), "classic" design of this part of the USGS site, one might conclude this feature has been around for a while. Good for them - collecting this sort of data from users is a fantastic idea.