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Twitter Happier: Scientists Track Tweets to Trace National Moods

Tracking Tweets for the Mood
Twitter's 140-character format may limit how much users can reveal about themselves, but, according to a group of computer scientists from Northeastern University, our casual tweets may contain enough information to reveal how we're truly feeling. Between 2006 and 2009, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Alan Mislove, analyzed all public posts to Twitter, looking for key, mood-indicating words. Using a ranking system called 'Affective Norms for English Words,' the scientists calculated scores for each publicly tweeting user, and determined their overall moods. Positive words -- like "diamond", "love" and "paradise" -- receive positive points, while 'funeral,' 'rape,' 'suicide' and any other negative words are counted as poor scores.

The study, which restricted its scope to U.S. users only, confirmed the obvious by concluding that tweeters on the West Coast tended to be "happier" than those on the East. The report also claims that American Twitter users, overall, tend to be happiest on Sunday, and saddest on Thursday evenings. "The visualizations are amazing and I think it is absolutely fascinating to see the nation's mood vary in near-real time," says Johan Bollen of Indiana University.

Mislove, meanwhile, admits that his team's system of mood evaluation had its flaws. If someone tweets, "I am not happy," for example, the team's system would count it as a positive tweet, simply because of the word "happy." He still says, though, that the map revealed intriguing demographic trends, and exposed interesting commonalities between users in disparate parts of the country. Both East and West Coast users, for example, tended to follow the same mood patterns throughout a given day.

It may seem like a primitive study, but it's still a fascinating approach to measuring the temperament of an entire country. His method may not be perfect, but, considering how large Mislove's sample was, it seems like it would be a reasonably effective metric. What excites scientists most about Twitter is the fact that its data is dynamic and changing by the second. Twitter is an inherently ephemeral medium, and its form encourages users to approach the Internet with goldfish memories. Yet, every now and then, it's fun to take a step back from the short term, and examine Twitter through an entirely different, more global lens. [From: Pulse of the Nation, via: NewScientist]

Tags: mood, moods, NationalSentiment, research, scientists, socialnetworking, study, top, tweet, tweets, twitter, web