11 November 2008

google and flu trends

just when i thought i couldn't be anymore impressed with google, i learn about google's new flutrends. a part of the philanthropic branch of google, google.org, flutrends compiles data on where people are searching for information online about flu symptoms and flu relief. the data gathered provides a very timely snapshot of where the flu is striking. i first learned of this service through a new york times article:

"Tests of the new Web tool from Google.org, the company’s philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

checking out the flutrends page i'm even more impressed. the page is really user-friendly, offers lots of answers about the process, links viewers to the CDC site for flu information, and PROVIDES THE RAW DATA. i wish i'd had this available to use for my master's thesis. thank you google, you are amazing and apparently can do no wrong.

when disease transmission is quick, its very easy to arrive a day late and miss the surge of cases. information on where influenza is striking right now - the data provided by this service - gives responders an earlier start off the block. additionally, this means of data collection doesn't rely on hospital or physician reporting, which in traditional data collection adds delay and relies on participation by rather busy (and often uninterested) individuals.

thankfully the map doesn't have much activity yet this season, but i'll be watching this flu season. i'm looking forward to reading more in-depth about this in their upcoming article in nature.

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