Archive for December 19th, 2008

Google Flu Trends

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Some time ago, Google released “flu trends”, a tool that allows people to track the spread of flu across the the USA. The idea behind this is that when people become ill, they tend to check up on the virus using Google and other search engines by typing queries such as “flu symptoms” or “flu cure”. Google can keep track of the number of these searches within a specific location and use the information to predict the number of current flu cases across the U.S.

Google Flu Trends has been around for some time, so for many people this will be old news. However, it is worth considering what else Google searches could be used to track. The short answer is “everything”. In fact, Google trends can be used to view search volumes for any given phrase, compare different phrases and see how they are affected by news stories and other events. The image below is taken from a quick search I did on Google Trends for the term “presents”. As you can see, the number of searches increases sharply just before Christmas.

trends for "presents"

Google Flu trends is an interesting tool which draws attention to the fact that Google can be used for more than just a search engine. Google collects a wealth of information that can be used for many purposes whether it is marketing research, showing changes in public interest, spread of disease and so on. It also has the benefit of providing “up-to-the-minute” information, giving it an advantage over many large scale censuses and polls.

For more information, follow these links to Google Flu Trends and Google Trends