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Flu alerts, metatrend style

September 3rd, 2009, by Chris | located in Conversations | No comments yet | trackback

We’re interested in ways of gleaning new insights from online data, and also in new ways of delivering those insights. So, our ears pricked up when we heard about a recently-launched iPhone application – called “Outbreaks Near Me” – based on MIT’s HealthMap resource.


HealthMap monitors and maps semantic references to various illnesses through news reports and social media channels, giving users a potential early warning of outbreaks. It’s one among a number of interesting health data mashups that have cropped up, including Google Flu Trends – a similar initiative, which bases its findings on search trends, rather than media or blog comment.

Some are sceptical about the utility of these initiatives as standalone tools – false positives are an issue for example in both comment monitoring and search data. This scepticism is often justified, but we’re mainly interested in their contribution to metatrend analysis. Their value really becomes apparent when you look at combining the outputs from many different data sources together.

We can measure flu trends now by a combination of social media listening and aggregated search trends, but what else can we add to the mix? There have been successful attempts in the past to identify outbreaks through pharmacy sales data, and in the future technologies like FLIR (forward looking infrared cameras) might also have a contribution to make. More data, tighter insights, better value.