Facebook has been dominating the social networking scene since 2004, with over 300 million users as of September 2009. Taking a step beyond enabling online social butterflies, now the the site is telling people exactly how happy they are. The Facebook blog says it’s In an effort to “help people better understand the world around them.” Facebook scientists developed an index, called the “Gross National Happiness Index,” which quantifies the happiness levels of people on Facebook. Put simply, they’re saying that the more I say words such as “happy,” “yay” and “awesome,” instead of “sad,” “doubt” and “tragic,” the happier I am that day.
In Monday’s blog post, Facebook said, “Every day, through Facebook status updates, people share how they feel with those who matter most in their lives. These updates are tiny windows into how people are doing. They’re brief, to the point, and descriptive of what’s going on this week, today or right now.”
By anonymously monitoring Facebook status updates, this program is able to generate a graph that shows peaks and dips in users’ Gross National Happiness Index. The application allows users to zoom in and out, focusing on specific days. The application has the ability to track trends, such as slumps in happiness levels during tragedies (the death of Michael Jackson), and drastic increases (President Obama's election). The graph was able to show that Wednesday, November 5, 2008 “was over twice as happy as the average Wednesday.”
An article in TechCrunch notes that, “With over 300 million users and 40 million daily status updates, Facebook has an immense amount of data that could potentially be used to gauge any number of things, from the hottest up-and-coming bands to the most discussed political issues.”
People have now recognized the possibilities that could come with aggregating Facebook statistics, and some are beginning to wonder why this information isn’t available to the public. In Read Write Web article, “Facebook Now Tracking Gross National Happiness; Continues Hoarding Data,” Marshall Kirkpatrick expresses his frustration with this application. He says that it’s an “example of just how much value Facebook is withholding by not allowing everyone access to the anonymous, aggregated activity and conversation of more than 300 million people.” Kirkpatrick wrote about the potential Facebook had to utilize all of the valuable information that can be found within the site back in February, saying that the site had “interesting and potentially valuable data that could be, for the first time in history, available in near real-time. Just by listening to what people are talking about in status updates and comments.” He noted that when Google publishing the top searches during the Presidential debates, they proved that significant results can come from analyzing basic statistics.
So, what's next? I hope we'll be able to use the massive data stored on Facebook to track something beyond happiness levels. While the stats are interesting, they're not surprising. You could easily guess that people are upset on Mondays and happy on holidays. Regardless of how you feel about this particular application, you have to agree that Facebook is on to something. When will they pull back the covers and give more of us access to the information they're holding back? And how will users react when they do?
– Contributed by Katy Rohlicek. Follow her @katyroll