U.S: The hunt for insights in the online chatter about swine flu
Posted: May 4th, 2009 - 12:11am
“Swine flu” last week was the most searched term on Yahoo, displacing “American Idol.”
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.
Because the number of actual swine flu cases in the United States is still very small — especially compared with seasonal influenza outbreaks — the interactive map at the Flu Trends Web site shows a shockingly docile United States, with low “flu activity” detected in Texas, New York and California, states saturated with news coverage on the topic.
By contrast, a map of the United States from Facebook illustrating how often swine flu is mentioned on the “walls” of users’ profile pages shows dark-blue hot spots in those states.