04 May The hunt for insights in the online chatter about swine flu
“SWINE flu” last week was the most searched term on Yahoo, displacing “American Idol.”
Google Flu Trends shows the activity in Texas as low because it is looking more broadly at influenza than the relatively rare cases of swine flu that have received media attention.
The Wikipedia page Swine influenza had 1.3 million pages views on Wednesday and on Thursday. At the same time, Twitter was estimated to be transmitting 125,000 tweets a day mentioning swine flu — 1 percent of all the chatter there — overwhelmingly from users concerned about the outbreak’s potential to do harm rather than, say, describing stomach pains.
In short, the Internet allows us to take the temperature of society as never before. And we could conclude last week that the public was hot and bothered by the recent outbreak of swine flu, but was not yet showing a fever.
And that, in a nutshell, is the wrinkle facing Google Flu Trends, an innovative project from the philanthropic arm of Google, Google.org, that is intended to give the public a heads-up on influenza outbreaks, often beating government predictions by a week or more.
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