Illtags, a Finnish startup that also took part in Slush event, aims to keep us a bit more healthy by letting us broadcast how we feel online. The service is founded by two young guns, a developer and a doctor, that I would call social entrepreneurs.
Illtags aims to combine two things for its analysis: 1) Tags depicting symptoms inputted at Facebook, Twitter or illtags.com and 2) Places, events and groups where users might catch or spread a bug. The strength of this approach is that all of this information already exists in social networks. By combining these two elements Illtags aims to analyze how diseases are spreading across social networks at an individual level, and let us avoid the places where the flu has taken over.
The service has a website, but just as with Dopplr that was acquired by Nokia, with Illtags you don’t really have to visit their website as they aim to integrate deeply into other platforms. Currently they are putting their bets on Facebook as most us are there already and we many times let our network of friends and family know when we have a cold or a flu.
The service remind me of Google Flutrends, but goes to a much more micro level analyzing individual restaurants and buildings instead of just States or countries.
There’s more to the service than meets the eye. The tags that one uses to let others know how they feel, say a cold, are linked to definitions of real viral symptoms in Illtags database. Based on these symptom tags Illtag calculates the statistical probability that the user has a symptom the user claims he has. Currently the team has focused on the common cold and swine flu for simplicity’s sake. These probability figures are still under development but come ultimately from the figures in medical journal articles, so called sensitivity and specificity. The aim is for the service to be able to give a right diagnosis on the illness based on the tags the user has chosen just as well as a doctor could diagnosis an illness based on the symptoms he recognizes, but the team admits there’s still some ways to go before Illtags is there.
That was only on the individual level. Illtags can also tell you the combined probability of a sickness in a certain Facebook group based on what the members have tagged. By extending this logic you can extrapolate the logic to any population of any size.
All this sounds very sophisticated, but nothing really works before the service gets enough users, and to do this there needs to be an incentive for the users to come back time after again. The service is currently still in Alpha and thus not even feature complete. As Markus Bergman (the doctor of the team) told me, from epidemiology point of view it is not certain how big user base Illtags would need for the service to fully function for its users, since there really isn’t similar services out there yet that combine the networks of people and symptoms.
We might be a lot wiser after the winter when the yearly epidemics and the infamous swine flu has swept through the Northern Europe.
Tagging symptoms on a map and groups is all fine, but it leaves me wanting a bit more. I would love to get more insights about my health that would also get me to use the service on continuous basis. I can’t but think of Balancion, which is a service to manage personal finance a lot like its big brother Mint in the US. Now, take this level of sophistication about your own money and apply it to your health. Include past illnesses and future projections based on where you live, which of your friends are sick, what time of the year it is, how strong the flu epidemic is during that particular year, then recommend that I might want to consider doubling my vitamin-C intake. Or tell me how to cure my cold or some other virally spreading illness when I have one by recommending me a set of options without me needing to actually search (think Google Search results). For this I would come back and gladly pay a fee for.