WhoIsSick.org: A mash-up that proves misery loves company

Musical genius Tom Waits once quipped, “Everybody I like is either dead or not feeling well.” This week I took comfort in these words as I was in the throes of a terrible cold. Everyone I knew, it seemed, was either sick or succumbing. As often happens, this got me wondering how widespread the virus really was.

In the past I’ve been frustrated. Maps of everyday pandemics aren’t easily come by. But today I got an emailed link to an interesting new Google mash-up. The link was sent to me by friend and lighting designer extraordinaire Noele Stollmack (who has been begging me to mention her in my blog for months*). A bit of an amateur epidemiologist herself, she confessed in her email that WhoIsSick.org is the “first social networking site that has piqued my interest.”

Click on this image for an expanded view of the sick people in NYC in the last 60 daysNoele is actually jumping the gun a bit. It may become a social network someday, but for now it’s a promising database / mapping application showing the spread and concentration of collections of symptoms. Participation is still quite low, but I like the concept. The image at the right shows a tag cloud of the symptoms reported in the Manhattan area. If you click on the image you’ll get an expanded view that shows the NYC Google Map with the distribution of these symptoms.

How are you feeling? If the answer is not well, go to WhoIsSick and type in your ZIP code. You’ll see who else is sick in your area, and have a chance to add your malady to the mix.

Try it. It might make you feel a little better.

*Actually, Noele Stollmack finds blogs “too personal and self-indulgent” to waste her time with, which is reason enough for me to create this Google bomb that ranks high when anyone searches on the phrase noele stollmack. 🙂 Back atcha, Noele!

StumbleUpon buy begs this question: What’s he building in there?

As you are almost certainly aware, the large media and internet firms have lately been on a buying spree. This week news came of one more acquisition: StumbleUpon, to be purchased by eBay. Tom Waits recorded a spooky little ditty (made even more creepy by the video), called What’s He Building? In this spoken word song, the narrator wonders aloud what his loner neighbor is building in his basement. Well, I’m feeling a lot like that guy, scratching my head and wondering what strategic purpose eBay would have with this social bookmarking site.

With 2.5 million registered users, StumbleUpon behaves somewhat like a search engine. It recommends various categories of sites based on the votes of its members. In this way it uses the collective intelligence of a network of backlinks, in the same way that Google made famous. Instead of clicking on a link that states “I’m feeling lucky,” you press a Stumble! button on your specialized browser toolbar, and a new, fun site is served up for a category you enjoy.

The odds that you’ll like the recommended site are quite high, since your peers have already given it hundreds of “thumb’s ups.” You can add your own Thumb’s Up/Thumb’s Down to refine future recommendations, ala Pandora.com (a song recommendation site which, coincidentally, is a perennial favorite that StumbleUpon recommends to anyone saying they like “Music”).

Wait a minute. What did I just say? Toolbar. Google. Just yesterday a friend was wondering if Google would find its share of users eroding because it introduced Personalized Search. That’s a way that Google uses information gleaned from its toolbar and other sources to customize search results. My friend suggested that Personalized Search’s results will often miss the context of a person’s search. After all, when we go home at night we search on very different things, and for very different reasons — than during our workday. So will there be an opportunity for other search innovation to capture some of Google’s share?

True, three years ago eBay launched A9, a search engine in the stricter sense of the word than StumbleUpon ever will be. But maybe eBay is hoping to bolster A9 with a more social mechanism, to make it some sort of social bookmarking mega-search. Or perhaps they’ll try to combine StumbleUpon with another acquisition: CraigsList.org.

I’m baffled. Maybe you can help. “What’s he building in there?”