Facebook is even more omniscient than you thought: it can now chart the world's collective hopes and dreams and highs and lows--sort of, at least.
The company's data team on Monday launched a trippy new application called the "Gross National Happiness Index." Taking a similar format to its "Lexicon" trend-tracking product, the "GNH" currently displays a graph of data tabulated over the course of the past few years to track the "happiness" of Facebook users based on words picked up in their status messages.
The GNH is currently restricted to United States-based Facebook users--keep in mind, they now represent less than a fourth of the site's 300 million-strong memberships--who have set English as their default language. That will likely change at some undetermined date.
"Earlier this year, data scientists at Facebook started a project to measure the overall mood of people from the United States on Facebook, based on the sentiment expressed in status updates," explained a company blog post by Facebook's Adam Kramer--who is also a Ph.D. student in psychology:
Examples of positive or happy words include "happy," "yay," and "awesome," while negative, or unhappy words, include "sad," "doubt," and "tragic." We also did a brief survey of some Facebook users, which showed that people who use more positive words, relative to the number of negative words, reported higher satisfaction with their lives.
Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day tend to generate spikes in happiness, as do days of historical significance like the election of President Barack Obama. There are notably "sad" days, too, Kramer pointed out, like the double whammy on January 22, 2008, when the Asian stock market took a dive and young actor Heath Ledger was found dead.
In January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg chatted with blogger Robert Scoble at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and expressed interest in using the staggering amounts of data on the social network to generate a sort of "sentiment engine."
"He said that already, his teams are able to sense when nasty news, like stock prices are headed down, is under way," Scoble wrote at the time. "He also told me that the sentiment engine notices a lot of 'going out' kinds of messages on Friday afternoon and then notices a lot of 'hungover' messages on Saturday morning. He's not sure where that research will lead."
Sound creepy? Facebook doesn't think so. "To protect your privacy, no one at Facebook actually reads the status updates in the process of doing this research," according to Kramer's post. "Instead, our computers do the word counting after all personally identifiable information has been removed."