The world is a sick place. Quite literally, as millions of people around the world fall ill each day. Prevention they say is the better part of a cure -but how about prediction?
Sickweather is a new kind of “social health network”. It actually wants to be the wind vane for bad health around the world. Sickweather – presently in beta – aims to show hotspots of unwellness on a map around your own location and help you stay informed so that you can take the proper precautions.
Sickweather uses its patent pending algorithm for its tracking tool. Let’s see how it all comes together for your better health.
How does Sickweather and its health prediction engine work?
Sickweather falls back on that great fountain of real-time information – a social network’s status update. It has almost become second-nature for us to instantly update our Facebook and Twitter profiles with an “I am sick” (or anything similar), the second a bug strikes us. Sickweather makes use of this human “affliction” to track the incidence of sickness around the globe (calls it “storm activity”). Sickweather uses this publicly available data (along with the location information a social profile may contain) to map it and make it available for the rest of us.
The social health network also throws into the mix volunteered information by users who report their own health problems directly on the site.
Sickweather’s own algorithm is the engine behind the sickness forecasting and mapping analysis
How does sickness tracking come together on a map?
Data mining social networks for real-time information is not new. We do it in so many different ways, from finding out which friends are near us to approximating social trends on a map. Individually, we do come to know who from our social circle is not in the pink of health. Sickweather ramps it up on a larger scale. Instead of ignoring individual feeds, now we can observe clusters of areas around a city where a particular malady could be running riot.
Sickweather’s interface welcomes us with a map of what it guesses to be our current location. We can pick a particular ailment from the dropdown and search its presence by giving a specific location.
We can also volunteer information by selecting a symptom or just letting the health application know that we are okay.
As you can see from the screen below, Sickweather marks out areas according to the symptoms we are searching for. The color clusters represent areas of concentrated activity.
Zooming in to the street level pinpoints the specific location where a symptom has been reported from.
The map has place markers for hospitals, pharmacy, and grocery. You can locate the ones near to your location on the map.
How does sickness tracking help us?
On an individual level, prior information of an illness makes us better prepared to deal with it. If I am traveling and I know that my destination location is beset with common cold and flu, I am more likely to take some precautions. Sickweather could also be important for people afflicted with allergies. Though the system needs to be fine-tuned for the specific type of allergies, some like pollen and dust allergies are often endemic.
On a larger scale, Sickweather and its symptom tracking could be an important tool in the hands of health experts to forecast outbreaks.
How private is my data?
So far privacy risks are minimal as Sickweather uses publicly available data on social networks to run its algorithm i.e. what we ourselves are putting into our public updates. Data remains anonymous and individual illnesses aren’t highlighted. Sickweather calculates clusters of symptoms. It does not pinpoint your address and label you as an agent of a cold causing rhinovirus.
Moving on from beta
A broader menu of symptoms is on the cards. More specific data should also follow. As the web application runs the course, the data mining will hopefully extend to the rest of the world. It will directly go up against biggies like Google who have several mashups like Google Flu Trends and Twitter which is regularly used for disease and crisis tracking. The edge will be the algorithm each of these applications uses to sift the useful information from the banter.
Is Sickweather interesting? Would you use it to avoid a visit somewhere?