The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

« Previous Post | Technology Home | Next Post »

Facebook digs through user data and graphs U.S. happiness

October 6, 2009 |  3:50 pm

Facebook-graph-300 Facebook released a graphical breakdown showing the collective happiness of the site's millions of active U.S. users.

The company combed its database of short user-updates and looked for words indicating a theme of happiness or sadness correlating to the day it was posted. The breakdown was released Monday.

What we learned from the analysis of our nation's Web chatter: Holidays make people happy, celebrity deaths make people sad.

As Facebook notes, Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of the happiest days, while the deaths of Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson were among the lowest.

Indeed, the findings are completely obvious, but could become more interesting with years of data collection -- especially when aligned with economic indicators.

But, hey, do we really want Facebook to keep peering into updates meant just for friends and family? The research serves as a good reminder about cybersecurity -- after all, it is National Cybersecurity Month.

If you put something on Facebook, no matter how tight your privacy settings are, Facebook Inc. can still hang onto it, analyze it, remix it and repackage it.

Despite its silly name, the Gross National Happiness indicator is creepy. We're in there.

Mint, a personal finance website similar to (and now owned by) Quicken, also does this sort of data analysis. The company combs through millions of bank and credit card accounts that its users inputted for the purpose of personal finance tracking -- key word being "personal" -- in order to determine "America's most frugal cities" or "global wealth distribution."

We're going to send a link to this post on our Facebook pages along with the words "mad" and "unhappy." Maybe Facebook will notice the graph dip the next time it digs through my profile.

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

Image courtesy of Facebook