Facebook Knows When You Need a Hug

Halfway through a blah post about Google Buzz, I ran across this post about the correlation between Facebook relationship status and happiness.

I’ve largely ignored Facebook for a while now, and it didn’t occur to me until Pete Warden released his initial observations about Facebook and US geography how much statistical gold exists there.

Turns out Facebook has a team of people crunching data and producing analysis like today’s gem, and they keep a happiness index for the US based on word sentiment analysis of status updates. Sounds like Twistori, only more serious.

I find statistical and data visualization pr0n fascinating, and I’m both geeked to see this analysis and mildly unnerved that it exists at all.

Not surprised though.

With 400 million users pumping their emotions into Facebook, it only makes sense that someone would mine the data. Google does it with keyword searches, e.g. Google Flu Trends.

The emotional aspect is interesting. Sure, analyzing sentiment based on words isn’t foolproof; who out there hasn’t had a sarcasm fail over email or IM?

Still, with so many active users, Facebook could produce a decent, real-time emotional pulse of the World, which is pretty cool and totally scary all at once.

For example, check out the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index for the week Michael Jackson died. It dipped below zero pretty noticeably, indicating how Facebook’s US users were feeling.

Of course, these trends help (supposedly) to target better ads, e.g. relationship status and Valentine’s Day suggestions, but it starts to get creepy when ads target changes here, e.g. grief counseling based on an RIP status message or a recent change in relationship status.

And of course, even though we all agreed to the terms, selling these data and they accompanying analyses walks the ever blurring privacy line.

Anyway, something to think about next time you update your Facebook status.

So, what do you think? Surprised? Intrigued? Hoping to game the system with bogus updates?

Discuss in comments cause that’s where the good stuff happens. Mulling over a post on that too.




  1. Heh, maybe a Freudian slip there 🙂 I have to say, it's been tough to keep the content coming so I can understand why some might think that.

    Glad you liked the title. Facebook is such an easy target.

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