This is really interesting. In a letter to Nature a few days ago, (paywall – natch) six researchers (one from the CDC, and five from Google, including one named “Brilliant” – awesome) reported on their work using five years of query data to track the presence of flu-like symptoms within the population –
By processing hundreds of billions of individual searches from 5 years of Google web search logs, our system generates more comprehensive models for use in influenza surveillance, with regional and state-level estimates of ILI activity in the United States. Widespread global usage of online search engines may eventually enable models to be developed in international settings.
Information seeking behavior within a population as a way to figure out what’s going on in the population – I don’t know why I enjoy that concept so much, but I do.
Here’s more about the “Google Flu Trends” tool including more about how it works, and a place to download the raw data for yourself.
And here’s the graph from the letter that sure makes it look like this works -