Startup Tracks Sickness Among Facebook & Twitter Friends
Taking care of a mother whose immune system had been compromised during cancer treatment meant that James Sajor had to avoid getting sick at all costs. He called ahead to make sure no friends were ill before going out. He even made restaurant reservations during off-hours to avoid crowds.
Then one of his best friends since high school, entrepreneur Graham Dodge, mentioned an idea for trying to forecast illnesses based on the millions of daily messages posted on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Sajor joined Dodge and a third friend, Michael Belt, to create a startup called Sickweather that would track the spread of stomach bugs, chronic diseases or even depression.
"My personal interest in it was I simply wanted to see who was getting sick and where it was happening," Sajor said.
Sickweather creates real-time "weather maps" for sickness by mining public data from social networking sites to filter out certain keywords related to sickness and its symptoms. The Baltimore startup also aims to predict how such diseases might spread based on location.
Anyone can visit the Sickweather online for free and see the daily disease trends once the startup comes out of its closed beta phase. But people who take the time to register on Sickweather get more personalized information related to their social circles.
"Registered users can connect with Facebook and Twitter accounts, interact more on a personal level with friends and family, get relevant health updates via our free app," Dodge explained.
Sickweather aims to avoid the dry health information or warnings that have tended to dominate discussions about illness and public health.
"We want to make a fun, user-friendly environment that is actually pertaining to health," Sajor told InnovationNewsDaily.
The service also plans to sidestep any privacy issues by avoiding personal data, Belt said. As the company's tech guru, he eagerly joined Dodge and Sajor after becoming tired of hearing recycled startup ideas.
"All the stuff we're using, without caveat or exception, is public data," Belt said. "We're not mining personal data, we're not doing anything with personal data; we're not retaining or even storing personal data."
The startup founders plan to take their time with the ongoing private beta and take user feedback seriously. They still want to refine how they present advertising that serves as the startup's source of income, so that they don't turn off users.
"We're planning on a public beta this summer," Belt said. "Depending on how that goes, we'll decide when to roll out the full-blown product. Flu season would be an ideal time."