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Sickweather: A map for the common cold

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

It all started with a stomach bug.

In search of a quick diagnosis and some sympathy from similarly suffering friends, the bug’s victim took to Facebook.

“Sure enough, I found a friend of mine in D.C. who had the same exact symptoms that I had,” said Graham Dodge. “And then it occurred to me … that this sort of rudimentary search I was doing as an individual on Facebook could be done on a much larger scale.

Now, a little more than 18 months later, Dodge and two of his school friends are in their first round of fundraising for Sickweather, the souped-up, multinational version of Dodge’s search for sick friends.

Sickweather co-founders, from left, Graham Dodge, James Sajor and Michael Belt.

The site culls social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for posts containing keywords indicating symptoms and illnesses. Users can also submit information directly to the site.

Sickweather uses that data to compile a sort of regional injury report. Baltimoreans were suffering from allergies, headaches and stress on Tuesday while allergies, fever and flu reigned across the country, in the San Francisco Bay area.

When zoomed in on the Sickweather map, users can see individual posts plotted on the map. When zoomed out, the map groups posts into orange, geometric clouds that show the most prevalent maladies in different areas.

“There are other sites that look to aggregate health data, but not in real time, and not with an eye towards forecasting and prevention,” said Michael Belt, a Sickweather co-founder and its chief technology officer.

Prevention can be simple.

“If you’re going out and the weather forecast is calling for rain, chances are you’ll take an umbrella with you,” said Dodge. “Likewise, if you know the flu is going around, you’ll do more to wash your hands when you’re out and take care of yourself a little bit better.”

Dodge, Belt and third co-founder James Sajor all graduated from Dulaney High School in Timonium but took very different paths to Sickweather.

Dodge, Sickweather’s CEO, is the marketing director at an accounting firm in Baltimore County. Sajor, the COO, built racecars and was a freelance musician in California before returning to Maryland. Belt runs a web development business.

Sickweather is headquartered in a storefront on Antique Row in Cockeysville in the space shared by Belt’s firm and an art studio run by his wife.

The company is refining its website and working on making the social media updates flow both ways, with users’ Sickweather updates posting to Twitter and Facebook.

Sickweather is also going mobile. Dodge, Belt and Sajor are working on an iPhone app that will be followed by similar software for Android and other mobile operating systems.

They hope to close their first round of fundraising in May. And in the meantime, Sickweather is enjoying a slice of the spotlight.

The site saw 30,000 unique visitors and 100,000 page views from November through the end of February and media outlets including Time, BBC News, MSNBC and Al Jazeera have taken notice.

“They represent the market. They represent what people are wanting to see,” said Sajor. “The market is awesome for this, for our site.”

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Nick Sohr

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