Day in, day out, bloggers pour their feelings onto the Web. Now researchers are mining those outpourings to track society's mood swings.Peter Dodds and Christopher Danforth, applied mathematicians at the University of Vermont, Burlington, automatically searched 2.4 million blogs, via the Web site www.wefeelfine.org, for phrases containing the words "I feel." Their computers then scanned those phrases for 1034 emotionally charged words that a 1999 psychology study had ranked on a happiness scale from 1 (miserable) to 9 (ecstatic). From the words' frequency and scores, an algorithm calculated a net feel-good factor for each day and month.
For the past 4 years, happiness has steadily increased in the blogosphere, Dodds and Danforth reported online recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Spirits spike on Christmas and Valentine's Day but dip on 11 September. The happiest day since 2005 was 4 November 2008, the day of the U.S. presidential election. In contrast, Michael Jackson's death in June triggered a 3-day trough.
The Vermont scientists are now studying Twitter feeds. James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California, San Diego, says the new method will enable scientists "to take the pulse of the whole world, assessing the mood of human society."