June 4, 2009

Google and the Crystal Ball

Google brought us the Web Search. They brought us the Maps. They brought us their Mail, the News, the Images, the Videos... In other words, they revolutionized the web. They rule the web. You all know that.

They are so creative, cutting-edge and are always good for some surprise. Like this one: Google has announced the Wave project a few days ago, which indeed might have the power to turn into the "next generation of e-mail". Wave is a web based service platform designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wiki, and social networking. Gosh, this sounds exciting, really!

Yeah, Google is collecting data, probably more than we can imagine. And they will continue to do so. (A new study of UC Berkeley just revealed that Google is the dominant player in the tracking market; typically, tracking is done using "web bugs" that are embedded in the web page‘s HTML code, and are designed to enable monitoring of who is reading the page.)

But... aside from all discussions how evil or risky Google's data acquisitiveness might be, it opens a new world for something called "collective intelligence": discovering metadata based on the search engine data.

What does this mean? Well, Google records search phrases which can later be compared across specific regions, categories and time frames. Using Google's Insight for Search service, you can "see what the world is searching for". Pretty nice. For instance, search for "google wave" and see how the interest emerged end of May. Interestingly enough, there have already been a few searches in summer 2008!?!

Well, it even gets better. Google has found out that certain search terms used in their web search are good indicators of flu activity – when people have the flu, they search for symptoms, drugs etc. Google uses that to estimate flu activity on their Flu Trends page, and this indicator turns out to be quite good.

So, what is next? Possibilities seem endless, and Google will certainly surprise us again. Since they have all the data, and the (near) future is certainly hidden in that data – how about some kind of digital, web based crystal ball? I told you, so don't be surprised if they make it... ;o)

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