Valentines Day 2013 was the happiest day of the year. The saddest? Monday, April 15, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. How do we know this? Something called a hedonometer—and it’s mining Twitter data to gauge the world’s daily happiness levels.
How it works: words are assigned a happiness rating from 1 (sad) to 9 (happy). The analysis is made up of a random sample of about 50 million tweets, or roughly 10 percent. This gives the happiness rating for that day.
Users can look at data by year from 2008-present at hedonometer.org. Multicolored dots represent the data on a graph and can be hovered over for details. The most prevalent words for that day are listed, along with the date and the happiness rating. There are also maps that show hot spots on the globe where the most tweeting occurs.
An obvious problem with this tool? Not everyone tweets. Not only are there people with access to the technology who not tweet or who may tweet things that don’t accurately portray their emotional state, but there are entire countries that don’t have access to Twitter.
Creators of the hedonometer address these concerns on their website saying Twitter is ever expanding and becoming a more reliable source with every passing year. They also don’t claim it gives an accurate portray of the world’s feelings.
However, despite its limitations, the program is far from useless. For hotspot areas such as major cities, it can give a fairly accurate idea of how happy that area was on any given day. It also has the potential for expansion. Instead of focusing on only happiness levels, this tool could look at other variables such as anger, hope, or political climate. The hedonometer has the potential to provide society with an introspective look at itself.