News of the Chilean earthquake, one of the largest recorded over the last 100 years, sent millions around the world online in search of information and ways to help.

The social networking site Twitter (http://twitter.com) was abuzz a mere minutes after the earthquake struck.

On Twitter, which has developed into a key means by which both individuals and news organisations seek first-hand accounts of breaking events, thousands flocked to the hashtags #Chile, #earthquake, and #tsunami. Hastags are the means by which Twitter users organize messages - or “tweets” - around particular topics.

The best way to follow topics on a particular hashtag is to visit Twitter’s advanced search site (http://search.twitter.com/advanced) and type the topic or hashtag into the “This hashtag” text box. Then click Search, and every recent tweet containing that hashtag will appear.

Followers of the hashtag #Chile provided links to up-to-the-minute news about the disaster, while those following the hashtag #earthquake concentrated on well-wishes and news about the potential after-effects of the historic quake. Reports of impending tsunamis around the Pacific Ocean sent legions to the hashtag #tsunami, where forecasts and first-hand reports from Hawaii and other endangered regions dominated conversation.

Hoards also flocked to the tweets of Elliot Yamin (http://twitter.com/ElliottYamin), a former contestant of the popular American Idol television show, who was in Chile at the time of the quake. Yamin’s tweets gave followers a sense of the magnitude of the disaster.

“Complete and utter chaos on the streets,” Yamin wrote. “No power.

... my heart is beatin outta my chest ... tsunami warning.” Hours later, fans and followers were relieved to hear that Yamin was safe. “I’m totally calm now,” the star wrote. “Got blankets from our rooms, and we’re all huddled on the street, no aftershocks for a while.” After the Haitian earthquake, Internet users quickly became used to donating to relief organizations either online or through their mobile phones. Unfortunately, there were more than a few scam artists on the prowl, too, seeking to take advantage of the world’s generosity.

In an effort to head off such deception, many of the major relief organizations quickly mobilized online. The Red Cross began accepting donations through its International Response Fund (http://bit.ly/9FR5Tw), while Save the Children asked for donations through its Children’s Emergency Fund (http://bit.ly/9cXGzV).

AmeriCares set up a Chilean Earthquake Fun web site (http://bit.ly/avqkWc).

Google, too, quickly published a Crisis Response page (http://www.google.com/relief/chileearthquake), through which people could safely donate to the Chilean relief efforts of reputable organizations including UNICEF and the American Red Cross.

Google launched a Person Finder tool on its Crisis Response page.

Person Finder provides a way for those looking for loved ones and those who might have information about those loved ones to connect.

Click “I’m looking for someone,” type a name, and Person Finder will provide a list of people. Click one of the names, and a profile page appears, offering places to leave messages or provide descriptions. Click “I have information about someone,” type a name, and Person Finder provides a way for you to enter what you know about that person’s whereabouts.