A young girl wades through flood water in Jakarta. Reuters

They may not provide comprehensive information, but they can help save lives.

While Twitter may not offer a comprehensive picture of a phenomenon or an event, it can provide fast, real-time information about a large-scale disaster—like a flood—as it unfolds.

A new study by Dutch flood monitoring organizations Deltares and Floodtags finds that the tweets in Jakarta, Indonesia, rose to 900 per minute after a recent flood hit, and contained important information about location and depth of the flood waters. After an analysis of these tweets, Dutch researchers designed a method to produce a real-time map using information from Twitter, land elevation stats, and water motion data, Reuters reports:

"This method is really fast," Deltares flood expert Dirk Eilander told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It can produce a map within around a minute of messages being posted."

Not everyone can tweet during a disaster. But where there is Twitter activity, a tweet-based map can help save lives in an event where every minute counts. Plus, once the researchers double-checked and cross-referenced information from the tweets, the final flood map was pretty close to a photograph of the flood, they say.

PetaJakarta.org, an Indonesia-based open-source platform, used crowd-sourced information from Twitter to make a real-time map during the floods this year. According to the Jakarta Post, the organization received around 6,000 flood-related tweets in January and February.  

"People are really getting into it; they go right into the flood and report the depth [of floodwater] and even take a selfie,” Etienne Turpin, the organization's co-principal investigator told the Jakarta Post in February.

Here's an example of a Tweet-based real-time flood map, posted on Twitter's blog in December 2014:

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