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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#Sciblog – a bird-eye’s view from the camera

2 09 2008

Last Saturday I learned from @AJCann and @Jobadge (Twitter) that there was a Science Blogging Conference going on in London, that you could virtually attend.

Although I planned to do something else (banking for my mom, pick up my daughter from her overnight stay; Saturday is my-shopping-&-bodyshape-sauna- & blogging-if-I-have-some-spare-time-day), I decided to follow it. In the meantime I tried to blog about something else, which didn’t work.

I largely followed Cameron Neylon’s streamed video on Mogulus. It’s main value was the audio-stream, as well as the candid-camera function peeping at the audience from behind.

I came in late (back from banking) and unfortunately missed the Keynote lecture of Ben Goldacre from Badscience.

The next session didn’t do it for me, partly because the 3 blogging ladies ( Jenny Rohn, Grrl Scientist, Anna Kushnir) were almost inaudible and what they had to say about the bridging function of blogs between scientists and the general public (also figuratively) didn’t catch my ears. In the meantime the virtual attendents including, Fang (Mike Seyfang) from Australia, AJCann, some other guys and me, chatted in Cameron Neylon’s room.

In between I followed Twitter-messages having the hashtag #sciblog (see here). I was not familiar with hashtags, but it is a predefined tag you can add to you microblogging post to easily tract what is being said about a subject (even when you don’t actually follow the persons themselves, so as a spin off you can get acquainted with some real interesting people).

Example of a twitter message on #sciblog:

#sciblog matt woods: friendfeed encourages discussion and closes feedback loop 9 minutes ago from TwitKit

However, Hashtags is an opt-in service. You must follow @hashtags -and it has to follow you- for the service to index your tweets, so it took me some time to get it done (For more information, see this twitter wiki.) Althoug the procedure in itself was very effective, the twitter messages didn’t add much value for people already attending.

Another online backchannel, the Friendfeed room appeared more lively, but I soon stopped following the threads. Furthermore I ‘m so old-fashioned that I think speakers do deserve my attention while they’re talking (but perhaps that is because I’m not yet used to chatting at the back-scene). Checking my notes afterwards with the Friendfeed comments was useful however.

Next I followed Matt Wood’s introduction to microblogging and aggregation services and Breakout 6 “Communicating Primary Research Publicly” by Heather Etchevers (Human in Science), Jean-Claude Bradley (Useful Chemistry) and Bob O’Hara (Deep Thoughts and Silliness).

I found these presentations interesting, but tracking my notes back I couldn’t see where Matt ended and the others began.

During his lively presentation with a lot of gesturing, the heavy “sequencer” Matt Wood from “Green is Good” told us he had decided not to worry to be open and just send the message out to the public. You could use blogs to communicate your scientific findings, but blogposts do not handle versioning, although you can sometimes manipulate the post’s date (WordPress blog). Another tool is microblogging services. Twitter is more of a social platform, whereas Friendfeed is more apt for more information-exchange (no 140 character-limit). A new microblogging service is (see for instance this readwriteweb post)

Labnote books (and wiki’s) were a recurrent subject through the 4 presentations. They are very useful to blog primary research. People should write their motives, use it as a diary (writing down all details and circumstances), recording the results (videorecording, freehand sketches, figures, prints, text), followed by periodic summing up.

Why this is useful?

  • You don’t have to remember it (people tend to forget) (although some lab-scientists don’t like to take the notebook along to the bench)
  • Archive of ideas, (to share with people in the lab, collaborators or even ‘the world’
  • (If open) some results may be available direct outside the lab, which may be very useful for cooperation and exchange of thoughts or help (why did my blot fail?-how to proceed?)
  • It may help as a bridge to the public, i.e. by showing if public money is being spent well or for direct communication of your data to the public.
  • The info is verifiable if you link to the real data
  • Science is far more efficient this way and results are revealed instantly. Why wait till everything is distilled out? The scientist’s approach is as Hans Ricke quoted Richard Feyman from his Nobel Lecture 1966 (at Bob o’Hara ‘s blog) :

“We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea first, and so on. So there isn’t any place to publish, in a dignified manner,what you actually did in order to get to do the work.”

As Hans said blogs may fill that hole, because they are the place to publish this!

Major Pitfall may be that journals may not accept data reported on a wiki. And another that some people may run away with your ideas. By writing it all down you make it very easy on them. Still if everybody would become open…. For Science that would be a great good.

What I liked most of these presentations is the openness and the creativity of the presenters.
As a (medical) librarian and a scientist these thoughts came to my mind:

  • I’m a bit jealous that I worked as a scientist in the web 1.0 era. This way of approaching science looks very stimulating to me, but maybe that’s only a romantic look from the outside?
  • How do we as librarians step in? Can we play a facilitating role? Should these primary findings be aggregated and made available in a searchable way?
    We should at least keep more in pace with the new scientific developments and the way researchers exchange and find their information. It’s entirely different to what we are used to. (we= most librarians I know, including myself)
  • I wonder if such an approach could also be used in medicine and/or in EBM. Are wiki’s like this useful for CATs for instance? Question, PICO + domain, best study type, search, critical appraisal, summary, power point presentation, pdf-files, video of CAT etc??? link to video of casus perhaps?

To get an impression of the great features of such a wiki/open notebook, take a look at (Jean Claude Bradley). You can also go to the Useful Chemistry blog and click at “UsefulChem wiki”. Note for instance the links to the notebooks of the individual scientists. Really impressive.

Below you also find the (short) presentation of Heather. Hope the others will follow soon and share their presentations

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Sciblog2008 Etchevers“, posted with vodpod
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