[NetBehaviour] Web-Crawling Program ID's Disease Outbreaks.

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Mon Jul 21 11:40:43 CEST 2008

Web-Crawling Program ID's Disease Outbreaks.

Eric Bland, Discovery News.

July 18, 2008 -- Scientists are searching within the virtual world and 
finding real viruses.

Every hour, HealthMap, an infectious disease-tracking Web site, culls 
through news Web sites, public health list servs, the World Health 
Organization's online pages, and other Web sites in six different 
languages to pinpoint outbreaks of disease that real-world doctors can 
then act on.

"We were originally thinking about how we could expand disease 
surveillance and pick up outbreaks earlier than traditional methods," 
said John Brownstein of Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital 
Boston, who created HealthMap in September of 2006 with Clark Friefeld, 
a software developer at Harvard Medical School.

"It was a pilot project, a side gig for us," explained Brownstein.

About nine months ago, HealthMap came to the attention of Google.org, 
the philanthropic arm of the Internet search giant, which began to fund 
the team. Then, as Brownstein recalled, "all of a sudden, it just took off."

HealthMap gathers information from the Internet and filters it, 
removing, for example, duplicated or irrelevant information. It can 
pinpoint an incident of bubonic plague in Siberia, for example, while 
ensuring that a "plague" of home foreclosures in northern California 
doesn't show up on the free access Google Maps.


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