Can social media track outbreaks of illnesses? Tracking trends on Twitter may be the first step.
MetroStar Digital had the pleasure of working with the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to launch an online competition challenging developers to create an application that would identify trending illnesses on Twitter. The grand prize: $21,000.
“We hosted a forum last summer where state and local health practitioners discussed some of the benefits of monitoring social media. There was an overall consensus that many local health practitioners would like to be able to use social media to monitor health trends in their community but expressed a lack of time and resources,” said Diana Boss from Health and Human Services. “The Now Trending Challenge is a result of that conversation. We wanted to address that need.”
Working with the ASPR team, we created the website http://www.nowtrendingchallenge.com/ where contestants could learn about the challenge, register their team, and submit entries.
Our team was especially excited to help launch this initiative. Not only was it an online challenge… but an online challenge based on the Twitter API. We totally geeked out!
Empowering developers nationwide to prototype an application, the site provided potential participants a Toolkit with a list of terminology to be tracked, resourceful links, and the app requirements. In the end ASPR was seeking an application accomplishing two goals: 1) to successfully leverage the Twitter API to identify trending words within geographic areas in a 24-hour period; and 2) to create a method to notify public officials of the trends. Developers were given the freedom to choose the rest: the platform and specific design details of the app.
“The data that local health departments will gain as a result of the winning app could be used in a variety of ways to improve public health situational awareness and communication. It could be used to build a baseline of trend data, engage the public on trending health topics, serve as an indicator of potential emerging health issues within communities, or for cross-referencing against other data sources,” said Boss. “Overall, this will allow local health departments to feel more connected to the pulse of their community and give them a greater understanding of health issues that concern the citizens they serve on a daily basis.”
The challenge judge (Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response RADM Nicole Lurie, M.D., M.S.P.H.) and technical advisors will be testing out the entries this summer and look forward to announcing the winner by September 10, 2012.
Good luck to all the contestants! Check for updates on http://www.nowtrendingchallenge.com/.
Missed out on this competition? Learn about more online challenges at http://www.challenge.gov/.
Interested in setting up an online challenge for your organization? Contact our team on Twitter @MetroStarSystem.
Read more about other great things being done for public health through social media here: http://mashable.com/2012/06/08/social-media-disease-tracking/.