Internet trends: marketing research & predictions

Crowds predict better than professionals: Google predicts the next flu

December 15th, 2008 by

Many of us came to believe that since Google is powering our search behavior– it has the power to predict the future.
We at TrendsSpotting used Google Trends to throw lights on brands , products, and of course the US elections.
We understand that it does not only reflect current needs and interests, but, if analyzed correctly it can help us build future patterns in any field you choose.
I find it amazing that by following human search you can actually decrease uncertainties and gain predictability even in fields which were perceived to lack human influence and control.

Today, by following the crowds, Google can share insights on the spreading of epidemics as the flu. It turns out that Google can accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than any other professional report.
Marketing wise, health care and pharmaceutical companies can plan their marketing efforts more accurately, and effectively choose the right timing to advertise medicine and cold relief products.
Assuming marketing budget cuts– and a need for smart planning – the next graph indicates that it is much to soon to start advertising… (but for those of you in the health business – follow this trend as it will soon change its pattern!)

Current USA Google Trends Flu Graph

This comes as a strong evidence for Google as the perfect handy tool for marketers to plan their marketing activity by location and seasonality.

About Google Flu Trends:
Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together.

Google Flu trends works!
Comparing Google’s query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States. Google flu Trend results have been published in Nature.
During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.


This graph shows five years of Google query-based flu estimates for the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, compared against influenza surveillance data provided by CDC’s U.S. Influenza Sentinel Provider Surveillance Network. As you can see, estimates based on Google search queries about flu are very closely matched to a flu activity indicator used by CDC.

Can Google search queries predict better than 1500 doctors?
CDC uses a variety of methods to track influenza across the United States each year. One method relies on a network of more than 1500 doctors who see 16 million patients each year. The doctors keep track of the percentage of their patients who have an influenza-like illness, also known as an “ILI percentage”. CDC and state health departments collect and aggregate this data each week, providing a good indicator of overall flu activity across the United States.
It turns out that traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, but Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza.

Benefits to disease detection:
For epidemiologists, this is an exciting development, because early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected. If a new strain of influenza virus emerges under certain conditions, a pandemic could emerge and cause millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in 1918). Google’s up-to-date influenza estimates may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics.


If you remember Google’s team April 1st joke: “Google lets you see search results one day in advance” (Google predicts tomorrow) – well that’s probably no joke at all – it might as well be Google’s new business model..

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One Response

  1. Mike Says:

    Haha, this is amazing… Google keeps staying ahead!

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