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U.S. Government Wants to Use Twitter to Track Illnesses
© Image: Screenshot by Eric Mack /

U.S. Government Wants to Use Twitter to Track Illnesses

Over at, the United States' federal government's experiment in crowdsourcing, I came across a novel competition underway right now that rises above the multitude of video production contests and other uninspired programs that dominate the platform. 

The Now Trending Challenge wraps up its submission process at the end of this month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is looking for proposals on how to leverage Twitter chatter to keep track of trending illnesses and other health issues in cities and other geographical areas. Or, as The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Prepardness Response puts it:

Studies are showing that trending topics on social media can serve as an early indicator and warning of emerging health issues within a community. This challenge will offer the opportunity for an individual or a team of technology savvy individuals to showcase their skills at the national level while helping to advance the field of health analytics.

The window to submit the best code closes on June 1, 2012 with the winners of a $21,000 prize announced in September. When the contest is done, the government hopes to have a new tool that will allow users to input their geographic location and receive a list of the top five trending illnesses or health concerns in their area.

Determining which toddler birthday parties present the greatest threat of chicken pox is about to get a lot easier. We'll be keeping an eye on this one.

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