Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that statisticians from the University of Vermont are hoping to harness the stream of messages flowing through Twitter to read public opinion and sentiment in real time. '"Twitter is a reflection of what people are interested in right now," says Peter Dodds, adding that the goal is to establish an index, akin to the Dow Jones industrial average, that can "give an overall sense of how a collective body of people are feeling at any given point in time.' Dodds says he and his colleagues are analyzing about 1,000 tweets each minute, or about a million a day, looking for trends in descriptive words and phrases that indicate moods and emotions. In addition, the two can monitor the public reaction to news or policy announcement and track it over time. The tool is still in its early stages, but eventually Dodds hopes that it could work similarly to Google Flu Trends, a Web tool that doubles as an early-warning system for flu outbreaks by detecting spikes in certain search terms. Since relationships and conversations are so intrinsic to how people communicate on Twitter, the researchers hope that observing how one user's mood is affected by another might shed some light on crowd behavior and emotional contagion. 'All of this data serves as a remote sensor of well-being,' Dodds says."