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Sickweather maps track illnesses using social media

Sickweather.com scours and mines data from social media sites on people who are ill and plots the results on a real-time map.
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Graham Dodge used to lead a team that managed an online crime map. Then he had a baby. OK, his wife actually had the baby, but he was personally involved.

Anyway, he was home with the baby and was suffering from a stomach illness.

He wanted to figure out if it was an actual stomach illness or food poisoning. Because he was accustomed to mapping data, he did a little online research and found nothing.



The Centers for Disease control was no help. Neither was anyone else.

“Our own users can contribute immediately. We’re the Doppler of disease.”
Graham Dodge

He finally found a Facebook buddy who was suffering from the same sort of thing.



While a couple bouts with a stomach bug does not an epidemic make, it was enough to flip on Dodge’s idea light.

“I thought, ‘This might be something I should try to figure out,’” he said.

One of the Sickweather co-founder’s mother was going through chemotherapy and he was her primary caregiver. He could not be away from her, and if he got sick it could kill her, Dodge said.

They started scouring and data mining social media sites for sick people — as in physical ill, not the other kind — and plotted the results on a map. The result is real-time data about illnesses and where they are.

“Our own users can contribute immediately. We’re the Doppler of disease,” Dodge said. “It updates in real time. You don’t have to wait for public health services or anyone else to issue a warning.”

Because it mines data from social media sites, detractors tend to dismiss it as “Facebook for hypochondriacs.”

TRACKING SYMPTOMS

The app can cycle through 23 illnesses that they track, illnesses people talk about on social media.

Flu generally tops the list, because it’s still flu season, Dodge patiently explained.

Flu peaked at the end of the December for most states, which you would know if you were Dodge or downloaded his app.

The maps show clusters of activity as represented by blue “SICK” map markers.

They show their data for two weeks. After two weeks most diseases are past their viral lifecycle, he said.

The Sickweather map says flu, cough and strep throat are going around in our region. Strep is going around this time of year, as is pneumonia.

Sickweather launched in November 2011. In 2012, they were recognized among “100 Brilliant Companies” by Entrepreneur Magazine.


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