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Editor, Darren Hughes is the Head of US Operations for Digital Clarity, a digital marketing agency specializing in the strategy and implementation of Search, Social, SMS and Email campaigns.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Google gets the Flu!

With the number one subject being on everyone's lips and minds over the past few days, being Swine Flu, Google, Wikipedia and other web properties are really benefiting from the curiosity and morbid fascination surrounding the fast-moving epidemic.

"As the number of swine flu cases continues to climb, so does public interest in the (flu) outbreak. Americans are looking for more information on the outbreak and specifically for symptoms to look out for," said Heather Hopkins, analyst for Hitwise, which tracks Internet usage.

Online searches for the phrase "swine flu" during the past week have sent millions of Internet users to Wikipedia, Google and other websites according to online tracking experts.

Although Barack Obama and other senior government officials are suggesting that this is not a time to panic, it is clear that the heightened sense of alert being driven by the extensive coverage of the mass media and school closures across the United States is turning people to search engines to find out all they can regarding symptoms, vaccines, number of cases and the effect on their communities.

Meanwhile, has released an experimental version of Google Flu Trends to track the spread of the swine flu in Mexico. Google on Monday said flu activity remained low, as seen by its flu-tracking system, but the country-specific version published Wednesday shows a spike in flu activity.

Google says it is able to track swine flu levels in Mexico bylooking at how many people search terms such as "aches and chills."

Google is cautioning they haven't yet been able to verify the data.

An expansion to their existing flu trends tool for the U.S., Google says its data showed a small increase in many parts of Mexico before swine flu hit the news last week.

Jeremy Ginsberg, the lead engineer for Flu Trends, says his team is looking at the potential to use the approach in a number of other countries.

Ginsberg says Flu Trends is able to distinguish people just searching for information on swine flu from people who think they may have the flu.

Some of the search terms they look for include stomach problems, aches and chills and searches on where to buy a thermometer.

"For Flu Trends US we found a set of terms that, going back a number of years in different places across the U.S., really matched," Ginsberg said in a conference call Wednesday.

"The popularity of these terms increased exactly when official surveillance data said more people were experiencing flu-like symptoms."

Although this technology is very young and unproven, it really does show that by capturing and analyzing certain search data, it is possible for Google, working with government and the World Health Organizations to better equip themselves in the prevention or limitation of epidemics like Swine Flu Sphere: Related Content

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