Healthcare organizations in North America have been cautioning the public of the early onset of the flu season. In December the number of laboratory confirmed cases were up 3x over the same time the previous season and as of January 5, 40 deaths have been attributed to the flu in this province. Google Flutrends has been charting this for a while already and the spike is alarming. Noteworthy that the data they plot is not based on the confirmed flu cases, but from the search terms around flu. This highlights how Big Data differs from legacy data and its latent power.
As per the Google FAQ, this is how they do the mapping
We’ve found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate current flu activity around the world in near real-time… Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together.
The FAQ also states that their reports have been corroborated by mapping the trends against reported incidents.
Business folks have been careful about embracing Big Data. One recurring point is that “the challenge is getting the data linked back to individuals and businesses” (without which the data are useless). The example above of course illustrates perfectly that this need not be so. My counter points
a) The “Big Data” through consumer telematics or opinions stated in social media are a more reliable (and cheaper) source of information than market research.
b) It is possible to link data back to known customers through interpolation techniques. [See blog post here].
Kudos to Google for doing good and demonstrating the latent power of Big Data.
That said, businesses must be wary before embarking on Big Data initiatives. We list here the Five reasons that Big Data initiatives go wrong .
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