Archive for Social Media

Google Epidemiology and STDs

The term “Twitter epidemiology” is not new, but researchers have struggled to find efficient methods of tracking disease outbreaks via social media posts and web searches. This is especially vital in conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), where stigma and embarrassment limit public sharing of symptoms even among friends. Who can blame such reticence? (As one with a ridiculous number of Facebook “friends” myself, I would think twice about revealing my cat’s ailments, let alone my own.) Unfortunately, STD’s flourish in the dark, so to speak, and the incidence of such diseases is on the rise. The specter of antibiotic resistance adds to the urgency of tracking STD outbreaks in real time before they can spread further.


While Google search trends have been followed for disease outbreaks such as flu, for instance, its use has been limited to the publicly available Google Trends data. Starting this summer however, Google began to allow researchers unrestricted access to its search data in order to facilitate the development of real time analytical tools to pinpoint outbreaks without having to wait for local public health officials to verify and report cases. It is assumed that STD information seekers – especially those in the 15-24 year old age range hit hardest by these diseases – will be more likely to use search engines to find out about their symptoms than tweet their friends about them.


This allows researchers to identify trends in searches for specific symptoms such as “vaginal discharge.” While researchers must guard against relying on a single source for data, Google provides a treasure trove for public health surveillance if methods for utilizing the data in real time prove practical. Stay tuned!

“Digital Jedis” and the Nepal Earthquake

Immediately following the massive earthquake in Nepal on Saturday, April 25, there was an outpouring of support both financial and material to help the stricken and remote countryside. The news media has featured not only the devastation, but also the heroic efforts of humanitarian and rescue workers from around the world as they pitched in to help survivors and assess the damage. Meanwhile, most of the rest of us can only watch helplessly from afar, with perhaps a monetary donation to an aid agency our only practical way to help.


[Nepal geography photo – “Nepal topo en”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –]

But a new form of digital volunteer support for disaster recovery has emerged. As of Wednesday, April 29, more than 2100 micromapping “Digital Jedis” have assisted in screening over 60,000 images and tweets from affected survivors and helpers on the ground to crowdsource the creation of a plan of action for aid organizations. This virtual screening of aid requests, volunteer offers, reports of damage to infrastructure and the like serves to limit such information being lost in the chaotic aftermath of disasters. In addition, this accurate, current information can help save lives. The sorted information is mapped and sent to the aid agencies, providing real-time updates of the situation in a particular area.


[Image source: Al Jazeera Science & Technology column, 11/13/2013 –]

MicroMappers is a product of the Qatar Computing Research Institute and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Its first micromapping disaster recovery project was the Pakistan earthquake in 2013. Other disasters the Digital Jedis have assisted with included the Philippines 2013 and 2014 typhoons, the Balkan flooding of May 2014, the Chilean earthquake of 2014 and the Vanatu tropical cyclone this March.

Altmetrics: What is the Buzz about Your Article?

Last week, I saw that Altmetric, a company that measures article level metrics, published their list of the 2014 Top 100 articles.  Here are two examples:

Example 2 Example 3

These are the papers that received the most attention online during 2014 from mainstream news, blogs, social media including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and Mendeley, and review sites like F1000. They cover a wide range of topics from serious science to those with imaginative titles.

What do you think of the top 100?

Are you curious about the buzz generated by your recent article?

Altimetric offers a free bookmarklet for your browser toolbar that will provide a detailed analysis of article level metrics for any article. Just grab it to install and go to a journal article page and click on the “Altmetric it” icon.

bookmarklet image 1

Here is the Altmetric report for a recent study (published in Sept. 2014.) Notice the details available to show you who is talking about your work. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)


SA 2







Intrigued?  Learn more about Altmetrics

“Altmetrics” is an emerging category of impact measurement premised upon the value of “alternative metrics,” or metrics based distinctly on the opportunities offered by the 21st century digital environment according to the ACRL. Frequently presented as a supplemental measure to traditional citation counts and impact factors, it measures the immediate attention generated by a publication and combined with traditional citation counts, journal impact factors, and H-indexes, offers a richer view of the impact of scholarly research.  There are several studies that measure the correlation between early attention to an article and later citation counts.

You may have seen article level metrics on journal article pages from a growing number of publishers, including some PLOS, Nature, Wiley, and Springer journals. Many of these journals include article downloads and page views as well.  Scopus offers Altmetric data in the right sidebar on the article record, allowing you to see both citing articles and article mentions.

Of course there are limitations to the use of these metrics and legitimate concerns about their validity and importance.  To address these issues, NISO (the National Information Standards Organization) has undertaken an initiative to explore, identify, and advance standards and/or best practices related to alt metrics, and has published a draft white paper for public comment.

To learn more about alternative metrics and their use, start here:

Altmetrics: A Manifesto – Jason Priem, Dario Taraborelli, Paul Groth, Cameron Neylon

Altmetrics: A 21st-Century Solution to Determining Research Quality – Stacey Konkiel

 Keeping Up With… Altmetrics – Chin Roemer and Rachel Borchardt.


In case you need another motivator to wash your hands frequently, try out the
Sickweather app! It scans social media sites for mentions of illness, maps the location of those reports in real time, and can send you alerts for reports close to you. Quickly and anonymously add reports of your own illnesses by clicking the + sign in the top right.

Sickweather 1aSickweather 2










Receive a daily Sickweather forecast for a heads up of the most common illnesses reported in your area. There’s even a 5-day radar that shows the illness hot spots across the country over the past 5 days. You can select what types of illnesses you want to know about, such as bronchitis, common cold, flu, norovirus, pink eye, RSV, stomach virus, strep throat, etc. (Ebola is not included in Sickweather’s list of illness.)

Sickweather 3

Also, if you’re planning to travel, you can look up a city and see what illness have been reported most recently there.

I’m going to enjoy giving this app a try. I think it’s important to remind yourself that these are all self-reports of illness, however. While this app might be helpful for getting a general sense of how much people are talking about illnesses on social media (and thus may reflect what’s going around), there is no physician or CDC researcher reviewing these reports to confirm their accuracy!

Social Media and Foodborne Illness Surveillance

“Twitter epidemiology” is a hot topic among public health professionals, as they investigate social media as a means of gathering data on unfolding health threats in the community. Perhaps one of the best uses of this new means of data collection is in tracking foodborne illnesses. Since many people who experience food poisoning treat it at home rather than visit a doctor or hospital, the incidence of food poisoning has long been recognized as underreported (Noesie, 2014). Social media, including online food and entertainment review sites and Twitter, are seen as a way to address that underreporting by identifying comments by users and “tweets” that report symptoms of food poisoning.

Foodborne Chicago banner logo

A recent MMWR issue reported on a project by the Chicago Department of Public Health which used Twitter to identify possible food poisoning complaints and follow up on them. The “Foodborne Chicago” site URL was provided in response to these online complaints, through which 193 complaints were submitted by users. In turn the health department inspected 133 restaurants as a result of these complaints, about 40 percent of which revealed health and safety violations.

Foodborne Chicago online form

The use of social media and online technologies to identify public health threats seems promising. Previous research has focused on the use of Google search analytics to help identify disease outbreaks. As far as foodborne illness specifically, the research so far has been limited. Most projects, including the Foodborne Chicago pilot, found similar results in surveillance via social media as compared to other methods. With further research, perhaps social media can become a mainstream adjunct to traditional methods of surveillance and follow-up for food poisoning outbreaks.

The Emojli Network :) or :(

You’re either going to love this or really hate it.

A couple of guys from London, Matt Gray & Tom Scott, are getting ready to launch an all emoji social network for iOS called Emojli, which will make exclusive use of the emjoi keyboard on your mobile device.

All the posts will be made up of emoji–only emoji.  Even your username.

It’s certainly not Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and not intended to be.  For those who get bent out of shape in thinking that texting and tweeting have ruined our ability to communicate in writing, Emojli isn’t that serious.

Emojli is like the Monty Python of Social Networks.  It will be silly.

They hope to make it available on iPhone sometime this month, and for Android soon after.

To reserve your username and watch their promo, click the image below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 10.35.31 AM

FYI: Before you enter in a username, be sure that you’re comfortable with it.  If you try a username and it hasn’t been taken, it’s yours.  And with over 250,000 two-image combinations still available, you can also waste, I mean spend, a lot of time trying to come up with something clever.

If you do decide to be a part of the big Emojli joke, look me up.  I’m timebomb


To add the Emoji keyboard to your iPhone or iPad, follow these steps.


Saving in Facebook

Perhaps you already know about this but it was new to me so I thought I would share.  I have lots of librarian colleagues on Facebook and they often share interesting articles that I don’t have time to read during the workday. Sometimes, if they look interesting enough I will open them and clip to Evernote or Pocket but I don’t often bother.  But now there is an option to Save them in Facebook.

HIN FB save


















Just click on the tiny down arrow in the top right corner of the post to open the menu pictured above.  Click on Save “name of the post” and the content is saved for future enjoyment!

home saved


To get back to the stuff you’ve saved, just look at the top left on the home screen under your profile.  You can see a list of what you saved, when you saved it, who posted it and where it is online.  You can even go back and share the link if you decide the content is worthwhile.  If you click on the “via NPR” by the article it takes you back to the post so you can see the comment and discussion.

saved in FB

I think this is a great feature!  Now I have another place to save articles that I’ll never have time to read!

Your very own food compass: Foodspotting

If you like to discover new restaurants or cuisine, or if you’re of the kind that routinely takes pictures of their food to show off on Facebook, you might be interested in Foodspotting.


Foodspotting is a app that works with your location, so wherever you are in the world, you can see where and what people are eating.  This is my go-to app when I’m out of town.

Two testimonies:  A few weeks ago I attended the Medical Library Association conference in Chicago.  A friend and I wanted breakfast.  We were walking around for a bit when I decided to pull up my app.  We were able to scroll through dozens of plates posted by other foodspotters.  We picked what looked like a cute brunch place, clicked on the link for directions (which melds really nicely with the navigation on your phone) and walk right to it.  My friend said it the best oatmeal of her life–it did look really good, they bruleed the top!  And I had some really wonderful soft scrambled eggs topped with fried kale.

I also use the app when I’m in a very touristy location–like Gulf Shores, and Savannah, and New Orleans.  I’m not often dazzled by the pirate ships and neon…I want the small local places.  I was able to find a place in Pensacola called Fisherman’s Corner…it is literally under an overpass and hands down has the most unique shrimp and grits I’ve ever seen, and one of the best tasting.

If I had seen this tin can crab on Foodspotting, I probably would have skipped this place.

If I had seen this tin can crab on Foodspotting, I probably would have skipped this place.

In the background is the shrimp & grits--that's a ball of fried grits!

In the background is the shrimp & grits–that’s a ball of fried grits!













Pros: If you’re a fan of Yelp Reviews, they are featured with every foodspot.  Quick connection to maps and directions. Great when you’re already on the go.  I’ve never been disappointed with the restaurants I found with Foodspotting.  Less chance of being disappointed in your meal when you can rely on real people to do the research for you.

Cons: There are plenty of pictures of McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks.  And so you have to scroll through some unexciting, typical chain eateries.  There is a desktop version, but it doesn’t have as much to offer.

And on a related note: Birminghamians know that Birmingham is a foodie town.  From our well-renowned fixtures (Highlands, Botega, etc.) to the newly established food trucks (Shindigs, Melt, etc.) this town makes some really good food.  So show the world!  Take a picture of your food, be proud, and post it to Foodspotting!

& follow me JillD!

This pizza was divine!  Gulf Pizza, Algiers, NOLA

This pizza was divine! Gulf Pizza, Algiers, NOLA.


Wearable Tech

From Google Glass to a variety of wearable fitness trackers to smart watches to gesture rings, is resistance really futile? We can already control most of our lives with a smart phone and now it seems we’ll be able to do the same with a stylish wearable accessory. It is kind of ironic really. We buy an activity tracker to help be fit but then buy a gesture device, like the Nod Gesture Ring, that will let us control our TV, house lights, and environmental controls without moving from our seat on the couch.

According to Daniel Bulygin on, 82% of Americans that have wearable tech believe it has enhanced their lives. No doubt that technology has enhanced lives throughout history. The flushing toilet alone was certainly an improvement over the outhouse. But for the everyday person, how much of this really makes our lives better or easier? I’ve kinda decided that wearable tech is kinda like library instruction without a course assignment. It isn’t very useful until you actually need it for something.

For instance, a gesture ring could seriously improve the life of someone who is wheelchair bound. If someone is really motivated to get fit then a health tracker could make a real difference.

So what is the verdict on wearable tech? You tell me.

Medical Technology, Caregiving and Health Literacy – Issues to Consider

The Affordable Care Act encourages the use of technology in making health care more efficient and less administratively complex. (This emphasis on technical efficiency may strike some as ironic, considering the initial online snafus plaguing the Marketplace registration site.) There have been other recent legislative efforts to address the adoption of electronic medical record keeping especially. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is particularly concerned about protecting the privacy of individuals’ health records in electronic transactions. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 established federal support for investment in health technology, including of course electronic health records. It seems that the impetus for medical technology is widespread in this particular point of our history.

At the same time, “patient engagement” has also become a key focus among health care providers. Patient engagement is defined as the process by which a patient is actively involved in maintaining or improving his or her health often in partnership with health care providers. (See For those patients whose conditions may necessitate their dependence on others to help them with their daily care, a caregiver can and should be recruited to act as partners in this patient engagement process. However, the family caregiver’s important role is sometimes overlooked by promoters of patient engagement. In addition, while many articles in the literature and online seem to naturally conclude that patient engagement and technology go hand in hand, there is a danger that those without technical means and/or know-how will be left further behind in this ever more “linked in” society.

As I write this, Health Literacy Month , which is observed in October of each year, is wrapping up. As a consumer health librarian, I encounter people every day who struggle with making sense of health and health care information, not to mention the complex health care system we all must navigate the best we can. Often these are folks who are caregivers for others in their families, a vital role not only for their own loved ones but generally speaking for all of us in society. Suzanne Mintz, blogging for Engaging the Patient, makes a credible case for regularly documenting who it is in a family that performs any primary caregiving role in the medical records of a patient. In so doing, not only is the role of caregiver highlighted and promoted to partner status with the healthcare team, but the caregiver’s health literacy skills might also be considered in any provider/patient communication, online or otherwise. The patient’s and caregiver’s preferences should be solicited in terms of how they want to receive information. Naturally, one would hope and expect that no provider would make assumptions about a patient’s or caregiver’s access to technology in communicating with him or her without checking first. Still, it is true as Ms. Mintz suggests that caregivers are often not given their due either system-wide, from insurers for example, or individually from providers. This is due for a change – and now seems to be the time!