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December 7th, 2009
Does the Internet Know How We Feel?
Researchers try to reveal beauty and humanity on the web

Sep Kamvar

Feel festive, cheerful and blessed around Christmas — but then slide into the doldrums in the first weeks of the New Year? Financially illiterate — and then suddenly started blogging about how the ups and downs of the stock market impacted you emotionally? Felt patriotic — or depressed — when Obama was elected? The internet knows.

Talk about following the zeitgeist: Computer programmers Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris have spent more than four years collecting some 12 million emotions posted on internet blogs. Turns out we’re a pretty predictable bunch: Patterns of the calendar, news events and even the weather influence how we say we feel. And as an increasing number of bloggers worldwide share their lives publicly, we’re developing a new relationship with computers, our fellow bloggers and ourselves.

And this Christmas season, you can track your emotions in their strikingly beautiful, glossy gift book, We Feel Fine (Scribner), that uses sophisticated computer science to underpin its findings about modern human emotion. The brainchild of Kamvar, a professor of computational mathematics at Stanford University, and Harris, a systems designer, the program scans scans all blogs every few minutes and extracts the sentences that contain “I feel” or “I am feeling.” Since blogs often have public profiles, the duo was able to determine the gender, age, and location of the people expressing these emotions, to boot.

Which makes it particularly cool for young adults — and spiritual seekers. You can find out what people your age and faith background are thinking. Who is more likely to feel blessed? What states are most likely to have bloggers talking about religion? It’s all in there — in a really pretty layout that will make you want to flip through the pages time and again.

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