Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Google's In-Flu-ence: The illness of crowds

In yet another fascinating example of Google's power (both the power of the data they have access to and their power to crunch it), they've announced the availability of Flu Trends.

The premise is simple: track where people are searching on terms associated with influenza (especially symptoms and treatments) to see if there are trends that can forecast influenza outbreaks.

Given the realtime nature of the data, combined with Google as a nearly ubiquitous starting point for information seekers online, one wonders what other wisdom might be mined from Google's data on what the crowd wants to know.

Fire ant sightings? Kudzu migration? Lindsay Lohan sightings? Of course Google trends has been on the scene for years...But predictive epidemiology data? That's where you have to have a baseline to compare the hypothesis against the experiment...and CDC data is the baseline.  Alas, Google searches do appear to be accurate predictors of flu outbreak (see chart).  

The global network becomes the hivemind...I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords' influence.

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