This scary-useful site plots illness-related social media posts on a map

coldsense app from zicam sickweather flu

Before you head out on a trip to anywhere – may it be a short walk to the local grocery store, a drive into the next city, or an all out road trip along the coast line – checking what the weather will be like through the course of the day (or next few days) is protocol if you want to be appropriately dressed, especially with the wintry months coming up. Another thing to be wary of in the next few weeks is the fact that it’s essentially flu season: If you’re not suitably-clothed or are not beefing up your immune system with a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen, you can easily be bogged down by something as simple as the common cold. That’s where Sickweather hopes to come in.

The concept of the site is pretty simple. It relies on the fact that countless people like to illicit sympathy for their illness on social media sites, where posts like “Ugh I hate being sick” or “my son has chickenpox” are common.

Using an algorithm they developed, Sickweather scours Facebook and Twitter for posts that contain sickness-related keywords and location information and plots them, creating an illness map of sorts. The idea is to give you an “under the weather” forecast so that you may avoid getting sick yourself.

Sickweather currently tracks more than 20 common illnesses, including allergies, cough, and sore throat. If you’re hoping to avoid getting sick, you can visit the site and see which viruses are prevalent near your area. You can connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts and find out which of your friends are out of commission – send them a quick “Get well soon!” post while you’re at it.

If you feel like you’re coming down with something, you can also go directly to the site and anonymously answer, “How are you feeling today?” If your symptom doesn’t match any of the illnesses already being tracked by Sickweather, suggestions will be automatically generated to improve your report so it can be plotted into the map.

Site breakdown

Sickweather immediately detected my location and has summarized in a nutshell what viruses are going around my town. Hovering over terms provide a brief description of the ailment.

sickweather - location

An orange polygonal shape on the Sickweather map denotes “storm activity”, or an event when users from the same vicinity all report similar symptoms at approximately the same timeframe.

sickweather - location 2

Zooming in on a storm activity will reveal more information, ending with a view of individual reports on street level.

sickweather - location 3

Users can also sign up for alerts, at a monthly rate of $1 per illness.

sickweather - alerts

Sickweather – which has been in beta status since launching in 2011 – is reportedly coming out with a smartphone app within the next month or so, featuring a one-of-a-kind “geosensing” function that alerts users when they are about to go into an area that has had various reports for sicknesses.

Why it might not work

While it can’t be denied that data scavenged from social media is about as real-time as you can get – official information regarding illnesses need to go through channels of verification before actually being put up on the Web – digging for disease data on sites like Facebook and Twitter is not a perfected science. Sometimes, sick people are too sick to post about…being sick. If it were me feeling puke-y with an anvil-like head, I know being in front of the glare of my laptop or phone is something I would like to avoid at all costs.

Any algorithm that scans for keywords may incur issues relating to context – I connected my Facebook account to find out which of my contacts are currently sick, and Sickweather detected a post by a friend congratulating someone for beating cancer. Yes, cancer is a serious disease, but I don’t have to worry about accidentally contracting it, do I?

Sickweather is a helpful tool – the company’s official blog says that it has been actively tracking social media reports for chickenpox since 2011 and was reportedly able to predict last year’s flu epidemic a good six weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially confirmed it – but just to be on the safe side, the data gathered by the site ought to be used only when paired with comprehensive information verified by the right health authorities.

So by all means, use the site’s warnings, but don’t go all bubble boy on us quite yet.

Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.
Cars

The best diagnostic adapters monitor your car so you don't have to

Sometimes called dongles, the best car adapters will tell you what's wrong under the hood while help you keep tabs on your family and routine maintenance.
Movies & TV

Best new podcasts of the week of April 13, 2019: Spacebridge and more

Feel like you’re drowning in podcasts? In this weekly series, we’ll help you pick out the best of the new and returning shows. This week’s picks include a spacebridge, love advice, Topher Grace, and bite-sized history.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Mobile

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.
Social Media

Facebook toys with mixing Stories and News Feed into one swipeable carousel

Facebook's News Feed could look a lot like Stories if a prototype the social media giant is working on rolls out to users. The design change mixes Stories and News Feed posts into a full-screen slideshow that users swipe left to navigate.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.
News

Twitter has revealed a launch date for its handy hide replies features

Twitter has revealed a launch date for a feature that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The hope is that it will help the original poster filter out offensive or irrelevant content from conversation threads.
Smart Home

Oh, Zuck, no! Facebook rumored to be creating a voice assistant to rival Alexa

Facebook hasn't been a big player in the smart speaker market, but that may be changing: The social media giant is reportedly working on a digital assistant to compete against Alexa and others.
Social Media

Facebook says it unintentionally uploaded email contacts of 1.5 million users

Facebook says that over the last two years it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users as they signed up to the social networking service. The process has ended and the email addresses are being deleted.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Photography

After controversial video, China bans ‘Leica’ on social media

A video that referenced Tiananmen Square got the name of the camera company Leica banned from the social media platform Weibo. Leica says the video wasn't an officially sanctioned promotion.
Photography

Photography News: Instagram’s disappearing likes, the best photos of the year

In this week's Photography News, see why Instagram is testing a version that excludes the number of likes a post gets. Also, see the impressive winners from two photography contests and the latest features coming to the Fujifilm X-T3.