Unexpected Trend Indicators and Innovative use of Google Search Data

Viil Lid's picture

Earlier this year I learned of some early-warning indicators for economical resess that I had not previously thought of. One was a dramatic increase in the sale of vegetable seeds, caused by people making space in their garden for growing vegetables when their private economy is starting to get strained. Another indicator for economic recess is the increase of customers and the decrease of donated goods for organizations like The Salvation Army stores and Goodwill.

Yesterday I learned of something that may be used as an early-warning indicator for influenza outbreaks. Google is providing Google Flu Trends which uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity across the US. This analysis is based on Google Trends search using a particular set of search terms commonly associated with the flu. The biggest difference between Google Flu Trend and any other Google Trend search is that the findings of Google Flu has been verified against data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What makes Google Flu even more interesting is that while traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. This makes Google Flu Trends an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza, and makes you think what other things Google Trend may be used for.

Visit Google Flu Trends at www.google.org/flutrends, or start exploring what other trends you may discover by using the Google Trend search at www.google.com/trends.