Health Tweeder. A Neat Visual Tool… But is it Useful?

9 02 2010

First seen on ScienceRoll (February 1st) and later throughout the Twitterverse & Blogosphere: Health Tweeder (, a tool launched by Pixels and Pills.

Health Tweeder is a  neat visual tool meant to aggregate tweets (Twitter messages) on specific health areas.

The Landing page consist of petri dishes, each corresponding to a specific medical discipline or disease. The size of the petri dish, and the number of cells in it, reflect the number of captured tweets. The health categories are also shown at the left, ranked by number of tweets. For instance, the second-largest category Pediatrics (in Orange) corresponds to the orange petri-dish of 170 tweets (accessed February 9th).

In Pixels and Pills own words:

The underlying idea was to build a visual tool so that people could review the dialog in specific areas in an interesting way. Using petri dishes to culture cells of dialog, each cell in a petri dish represents a distinct tweet that has been gathered using a range of search terms, hashtags, and people we’ve identified to follow. The cells grow and shrink based on the volume of content at any one time. In totality, they provide a dynamic view of the healthcare dialog on Twitter.

If you click on the orange petri-dish you see individual “cells” or Tweets. Moving the mouse over a particular cell [1] will show the corresponding tweet at the right. You can also search by page [2].

Health Tweeder looks pretty kewl. I love visual tools. They have a user-friendly, intuitive interface and it is fun to play with.  The concept of Health Tweeder –“cells of dialog cultured in petri dishes”– is also original. Perhaps it would have even be more consistent with the petri-dishes concept if each spot didn’t represent a tweet (cell) but a twitter person (cell clone or colony). But then, few clones would be present: the number of sources is very limited. There are only a few per health category. It looks as if the search criteria consist of very specific hashtags used by a very select group of people.

In the Pediatrics petri-dish there were mainly tweets seeded of Autism_Today, TannersDad, PeterBrownPsy, ADHD_News and MDLinx. The tweets didn’t seem extraordinary useful to me. The emphasis is on topics related to autism and ADHD, and incidentally on allergy or H1N1. Pediatrics must cover more than this?!

The same is true for other topics. Furthermore I can’t see any dialogs, as the makers of Health Tweeder suggest. Just one-way-tweets.

That made me wonder as to the real value of this tool.

For me, as a reasonable experienced Twitter user, searches for hashtags (sort of keywords), Twitter directories and Twitter Lists seem much more useful.

Possibly, this tool is suitable for less experienced Twitter users who prefer a narrow choice of Tweets on his/her area of interest. Still it seems rather cumbersome to follow tweets this way. Suppose I want to stay up-to-date on a particular topic. How do I know which tweets are new and which aren’t (if I merely use the petri-dish)?

The petri-dish is nice for stumbling upon, not for quick browsing, and certainly not for keeping up-to-date.

I searched on the Internet for other reviews of this tool, and without exception they were very positive.

Only at Andrew Spong’s blog STewM I found a comment of Sally Chuch, expressing a similar contrarian view. She was rather disappointed after checking out ‘cancer’ (her expertise).

What criteria is the tool using to search on? Are only certain Twitter handles defined as ‘kosher’ and used to select from their tweets?

In ‘cancer’ it includes mainly a couple of news outlets and one of two physicians, for example. There’s a lot more out there! (…)

Also, searching on ‘cancer’ will give you mainly solid tumours and not hematologic malignancies such as leukemias, lymphomas, myelodysplastic syndrome etc,

Andrew answered that he was more looking at the tool from the perspective of ‘what it could be’, not from the perspective of ‘what it actually is’. Andrew:

As we all head into the cloud and anticipate a time when much of the data we actually end up reviewing will be filtered according to our evolving preferences, it’s nice to begin to conceptualize a time when visualization tools will be added into the search mix.

So we will wait and see how this tool evolves…

The looks are great, the idea is original, but Love needs a little bit more.

video made by Andrew Spong
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4 responses

10 02 2010
Dan Licht

Hi Laika

Thank you so much for taking the time to review The Health Tweeder in depth. As a self-funded and evolving effort, we welcome all constructive feedback that will help us improve the functions and relevance of the site.

Our goal for The Health Tweeder was to provide cutting edge technology supported by deep market, client and medical expertise. It was developed to search through an informed sampling of tweets posted on Twitter each day and provides patients, healthcare professionals, and other interested parties with the information most relevant to them. In regards to the sources of the tweets, filtration is an ongoing, evolving process. We had a much longer list of sources, keywords and hashtags when we first beta-ed the project. But opening up the pipe that wide led to such an influx of Spam that the tool was rendered useless. We will continually review our sources and add additional material on a gradual basis.

The Health Tweeter is a visual tool that presents a view inside the Twitter space relevant to the selected disease categories all geared to reach the broadest audience possible. It was not designed to replace Twitter Search or applications like Tweetdeck and Seesmic. It was designed to capture the wealth of information on Twitter and make it easily available to Twitter users who aren’t using these tools as well as the large portion of the online population that doesn’t currently use Twitter.

Again, thanks for your feedback. I hope you continue to visit The Health Tweeder and please share any further insights you may have. Also, be sure to check out the Pixels and Pills blog at

Dan Licht, Chief Creative Officer of Zemoga for Pixels & Pills

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