May 3, 2013
Happiness Index ‘Hedonometer’ Rates Tweets
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Many researchers have tried to read Twitter´s tea leaves for insight into a variety of things, including the stock market.Now a team from the University of Vermont is using statistics culled from the popular social networking site to gauge society´s ℠happiness index´ on a day-to-day basis.
Using key words to identify the general mood of Tweeters, the team has developed a tool that can calculate the average mood on Twitter and post it to their site — hedonometer.org.
To build the hedonometer, the team had volunteers rate 10,000 common English words as sad or happy on a scale of 1 to 9. For example, “happy” is scored as an 8.3 positive outlook. These ratings are then used to analyze Twitter´s Gardenhose feed, a random daily collection of about 50 million tweets. The more positives culled from the feed — the higher the score on the hedonometer.
Most of the results of the hedonometer are fairly predictable, with weekends generally scoring higher and holidays receiving the highest overall ratings. Disasters, like the recent bombings in Boston, score the lowest for obvious reasons.
Danforth noted that their tool showed a slightly different reflection of society after the bombings than the stories written by journalists.
“Many of the articles written in response to the bombing have quoted individual tweets reflecting qualitative micro-stories,” Danforth said. “Our instrument reflects a kind of quantitative macro-story, one that journalists can use to bring big data into an article attempting to characterize the public response to the incident.”
The hedonometer also gives some unique anecdotal results. The UV team found that wine country´s Napa, Calif. appears to be the happiest US city, while Beaumont, Texas is the least happy.
Data from the hedonometer also showed that the death of Osama bin Laden was a relatively sad day — despite images of people dancing in front of the White House. This finding by the hedonometer was likely the result of "a very negatively viewed character met a very negative end," the researchers wrote in a report on their work in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
While some might argue that the day of the school shooting in Newton was sadder than the tragic one in Boston, the hedonometer´s results didn´t reflect that — most likely because the shooting occurred on Friday, a “happy” day of the week Danforth said. Conversely, the bombings happened on a Monday, when people tend to tweet negativity about returning to work or school.
Danforth advised that people take the hedonometer as significant, but with a grain of salt.
“We're not trying to tell you that contentment is better than happiness - we're not trying to define the word,” he said. “We're just saying we're measuring something important and interesting. And, now, sharing it with the world.”
It should be noted that the hedonometer could not be considered a true representative of the country´s mood as only about 15 percent of American adults use Twitter.