Twitter: that quasi-poetic 140-character constraint that results in genius, poignancy, the lightening-fast transit of information, or unbelievable stupidity. Now, it's being used by scientists to determine how happy we are. And it's kinda fun!
Did you know: a "hedonometer" is an instrument used to measure happiness? Well, it is now! The same guys who used Twitter to track American cases of Swine Flu are now using it to track the emotional disposition of the Twittering masses through a neat applet called We Feel Fine. Here's how it works:
The scientists started at the Web site wefeelfine.org, which combs through 2.3 million blogs looking for sentences that begin with "I feel" or "I am feeling." The words that came next were ranked on a happiness scale of 1 to 9. A total of 1,034 words were ranked, with "triumphant" registering at 8.87 on one side of the scale and "hostage" measuring at 2.20 at the other end. Using 10 million of these sentences from the last several years, the scientists calculated the general level of happiness for each day.
Okay, not the worst idea! And the results are kind of interesting, if not, maybe astute:
The consistently happiest days are, not surprisingly, vacation days and holidays. The overall happiest days of the last few years were election day (Nov. 4) and President Obama's inauguration (Jan. 20). On these days, people typically typed sentences with words like "pride" and "proud."
Not bad, right? One problem, however:
A sentence that reads "I am not happy," will register as a happy statement.
Whoops. Guess not. Also, only kids and tech dorks and Shaq use Twitter ("most people who blog and Twitter are younger than the average population") and this doesn't account for re-tweets, responses, sarcasm, inflection, and things like Hipster Runoff.
Like most of the people you know who spend too much time on the internet, they're probably a bad sample because they have social issues. On the plus side, it's a lot of fun to play with! Go give it a whirl.