This week, Facebook introduced the "Gross National Happiness Index" or GNH. This index is meant to track the overall feelings and moods of the Facebook users.
Facebook has, obviously, access to all the status updates of its users. With over 300 million users worldwide, these private or public testimonials can be considered as a pretty accurate index of what people feel, as a whole.
You are probably wandering how this tool works? Facebook probably set up a list of positive and negative keywords. Positive keywords can be expressions such as happy, nice, great, sweet and so on while negative keywords could be sad, annoyed, disappointed or angry. Every day, this tool counts the number of status updates containing positive keywords, as well as the number of updates with negative keywords. The GNH index is the difference between the happy and "unhappy" counts.
This is represented in a timeline graph with a daily update of the index. Little labels can also show national holidays or other events that might explain why there is a positive or negative peak on a particular day. Unlike the Google Insights for Search tool, the Facebook GNH graph does not show news headlines that might affect people's news. For example, I remember when Michael Jackson's death was announced, a massive number of people posted sad comments on their Facebook status. But when I look at the graph on that particular day, I cannot observe any negative peak. I can only ask myself if this tool is very accurate.
However, the purpose and utility of this index can be quite interesting for sociodemographic studies. It is only limited to the United States at the moment but will hopefully be expanded to other regions in the future.
Perhaps in the future we will be able to play around with filters to see how that index evolves depending on the geographic region, the age, nationality, language, gender, etc of the users.
In conclusion, I would say that it was natural for Facebook to start publishing tools such as this one. With the amount of data collected by the company, there are so many things they can share with the world. Although this new tool is interesting, it is not a new concept. I strongly suggest that you have a look at the two videos from Jonathan Harris that I have embedded in this previous post. The first one dates back from 2007 but is exactly the same concept and shown in a MUCH better way and design!