The weather is getting colder and noses are getting snifflier. Everyone eyes their sneezing office mate and prays they won’t come down with anything. So the launch of Sickweather--a startup that collects data from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to show what illnesses are going around your area--couldn’t come at a better time. We wrote about the site in June, and now the site is in closed beta testing, and we had the chance to check it out in action.
The most important Sickweather feature is the map, which displays the illnesses going around your local area. The map can also zoom out to show what’s happening around the country.
Say you want to know whether the flu is going around. Just select "flu" from the drop-down menu, and voila, a map of where people are experiencing the flu pops up, laid out like a weather map showing storm and cloud cover.
Zoom out and you can see where the flu is spreading around the country--at this moment, primarily in Northern California and the South. Zoom in to your city or town, and you can see the individual pockets of sick people.
So how does this all work? Sickweather tracks keywords on social networks like "pneumonia" and "flu" to monitor where symptoms are showing up in the country. The site also gives users the option of mining their own Facebook feed to see which friends are sick (apparently, none of mine are).
Sickweather’s algorithm isn’t perfect yet; the site’s beta tester blog notes that "you may notice some 'false positives’ in your Sickweather News Feed (eg, 'those were some sick beats at the club last night’) as we work on the algorithm." But it’s still better than learning that your entire friend network has the flu by actually catching it from them.