Twitter Backs Health Research With #DataGrants Project

1-29-2014 10-14-18 PM

In February of this year, Twitter unveiled a new pilot program called Twitter Data Grants targeting non-profit researchers that would like to use Twitter’s “fire hose” of live streaming data to support research inquiries. On average, Twitter generates 500 million tweets per day, spanning the globe and covering a treasure trove of different topics. This data is concise, geo-located, and frequently tagged, making it an interesting potential source of datasets for researchers. The program, which offered free access to Twitter’s streaming data, drew 1,300 applications in just over one month. From this, Twitter picked six projects, three of which were focused on research in healthcare.

Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital were selected to use Twitter traffic to help expand its HealthMap project. HealthMap was founded in 2006 as a research project that repurposes informal online sources of information to plot real-time disease outbreaks. Currently, the platform analyzes data from the World Health Organization, Google News, GeoSentinel, and others. Researchers with Harvard will now be able to analyze and use data from Twitter to track gastrointestinal illnesses.

Tracking gastrointestinal data on Twitter has been attempted before with positive results. The Chicago Department of Public Health uses algorithm’s to analyze local Twitter activity for signs of food poisoning in the public, and then messages the sender to solicit additional information on where they’d recently eaten. The automated program helped launch 174 investigations into questionable restaurants last year.

In the Netherlands, the University of Twente has been selected to use Twitter data to support research it is doing on tracking the effectiveness of cancer early detection campaigns and measuring the diffusion of the campaign over time. Researchers will track the success of individual public health and public awareness campaigns, such as #Movember, and will then attempt to identify the individual contributors that drive success or failure. The resulting data will be used to generate best practice recommendations on running effective public health campaigns.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have teamed up with colleagues at City University of New York to pursue research that attempts to identify characteristics of a happy city. At the forefront of the research is the question: “Is it possible to measure the overall happiness of metropolitan areas based on the study of images shared on Twitter?” Researchers will take the next year to analyze one million images taken from several US cities, attempting to correlate the information with other known measures of happiness from the cities to bring deeper understanding to the intangible drivers of social well-being.

The three non-healthcare projects focused on: analyzing the effectiveness of disaster communications systems, exploring the relationship between tweets and sports team performance, and using geosocial intelligence to predict urban flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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