The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Don’t Know What You’ve Got, Till You’ve Looked At It …
December 4, 2008, 6:53 am
Filed under: Comment

Kool-Aid Man and Logo by Paxton Holley Photo: Paxton Holley

I know alot of people think I’ve drunk the Google Kool-Aid … and maybe to a degree I have … however as much as they are a commercial operation, they continually find ways to make a positive difference to the World, which is a damn sight better than most companies who talk a good game but do fuck all about it.

Yes I know they have a lot of money – but you know what, so do alot of companies – the thing is their actions speak louder than their words and as much as they’ve made a few decisions recently that have raised a few eyebrows [changing their restaurant opening times for one, don’t they realise Andy needs his food!!!], their ‘We’re Not Evil’ philosophy bank account is still way in credit.

I think most people who read this blog know about my time being a semi-student and loyal follower of forensic profiler Paul Britton.

Whilst at the time many people thought what I was doing was a big load of wank, with the advent of things like ‘The Undercover Economist’, ‘Tipping Point’ and even ‘CSI’, it is becoming more and more apparent that understanding the background of people’s actions [including cultural influence and ideals] and identifying changes in their behaviour/attitudes can help develop ideas that have more grunt than concepts which have simply focused on key habits of a particular category.

Lieutenant Columbo by ostromentsky Photo: Ostromentsky

I bring this up because Google have just demonstrated [with a little help from our dear George and the gang] the power of what we like to call, circumstantial evidence.

By creating an algorithm that tracks ‘out of the usual’ searches then grouping them into subjects and ranking them interms of commonality and region/country – Google have stumbled across a way that may be able to identify issues/trends before they take hold.

To demonstrate the idea – even though it was reversed engineered – they looked for, then tracked, any search with terms like ‘cough’, ‘fever’, ‘aches and pains’ in them.

Before long they felt they were able to identify which regions in the US were likely to succumb to the flu bug.

After testing this theory out in 9 US regions, they were able to accurately predict illness upto 14 days before the Federal Centre for Diseases came to the same conclusion.

14 days …


It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about individuals, communities, companies or economies, that level of advance notice could make quite a difference interms of how badly things are affected.

[You can see the official Google Flu Tracker by going here. Expect more of these ‘early warning/early overcoming’ systems quite soon]

How to keep an open mind. by Kolby Schnelli Photo: Kolby Schnelli

Now I know this methodology seems very obvious … and whilst things like this have been done before [ie: predicting the American Idol winner] … it’s never really been done on this scale or with this purpose before.

Yes I appreciate this is an example of finding an answer then looking for a problem … and yes I know there is also an opportunity to use this information for evil as well as good … but putting that aside, think how many other things may be able to be overcome with this ‘people powered’ approach?

Too many companies look at their data with a single purpose … and whilst that is all fine and good … if you look at it with an open mind, you may just find some information that can give you leads into insights that you never expected … insights that can change your company and your community for the better.

It’s not the devil in the detail, it’s opportunities for the future.

23 Comments so far
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we didnt think it was wank when you went off to pray at paul brittons feet, we thought it was wank when you suddenly demanded to play cluedo every lunchtime, wore a columbo trench coat and smeared lemon curd over the office security system and shouted its ‘lemon entry’ boom fucking tish.

i expect george will be pushing for a google ‘wife tracker’ next. a device that lets people know whether friends of your wife are in the vicinity when youre acting like a pissed up twat

Comment by andy@cynic

Great post, great idea, great George. ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Bazza

Stop being a shit stirrer Andrew!

Comment by George

And we were only a small part of the concept development. If some of us can’t even log onto a website, it’s unlikely algorithm creation will be our thing.
Can you tell who I’m talking about Andrew?

Comment by George

Remember George that people who don’t “protesteth” enough are just as bad as people who “protesteth” too much.

Excellent work and a very interesting post. If this is how you are all ending the year I have high expectations of what you’ll bring in 09.

Comment by Lee Hill

Oh don’t you worry about George, he’s
“protestething” just about the right amount ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob

I find this disturbing.

Comment by Marcus

fucking bastards

Comment by niko

Very good indeed, as long as it’s used for good…

Comment by northern

Very interesting.
Just a shame they continue to screw the adwords system in their favour all the time.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Every single day we are faced with situations where we have a choice.

Do the right thing … do the wrong thing … and every single day, the majority of people on this planet choose the right and that’s exactly what Google – and a whole host of other companies who have information that could potentially be used for bad things – are doing.

Though if we had our way it might be different ๐Ÿ˜‰

PS: Mr M, your comment re: adwords has been duly noted though I have nothing I can add, change or say. Oh my god, I’ve become a corporate toady.

Comment by Rob

Shouldn’t it be hypochondriacs tracker and was there any weighting to discount for manflu?

Comment by John

Are you trying to say ‘man flu’ isn’t real flu?

You are banished from ‘manland’ Dodds … go and put on your flowery dress and dance through the fields.

Comment by Rob

In particular the trademark issue, they essentially (it appears) couldn’t be arsed to regulate it so they relaxed the rules and now the legal system is having to decide for them.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Go on George, answer Mr M … I dare you or will your G-Chip explode? ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob

Mr M

brand value is not determined by the legal protection it can get (especially online), but by the level of transparency and trust it has.

by not actively regulating it, it forces brands to think about more than just the TM sign. now it’s just “i paid for it so I want protection” cries aimed at G, whilst the consumer/surfer could care less.

Though a name and shame campaign by G would be fun.

Comment by niko

Its interesting to see trademark truces in some industries.

Niko: You are right, but what about the small companies who cannot afford to do anything about it. My old company used to get 5/6 people constantly bidding on their name and using their terms against google’s rules, costing them money and losing them trade.

I understand what you are saying. But for Google to effectively wash their hands of what was a clear problem (probably in order to save costs and increase bids on terms, coming in as it did at the same time as ranking changes which forced [according to my sources] most ppc bidders to pay more). Now the problem has crossed into what is legal and what is not; and that is far more costly and time consuming for everyone involved.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

My eyes are closed and my hands are over my ears ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob


Don’t get me wrong, overall I like Google; but it feels like their PPC team have forgotten their motto. And that’s a shame because ppc is now an essential part of most comms strategy, and if you feel a dominant company in an unavoidable market is taking you for a ride your opinion will change quicker than David Cameron in a crisis.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

talk like that mortimer is giving george elvis proportion heart palpitations

Comment by andy@cynic

Sorry George!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

dont apologise mortimer, you did good lol

Comment by andy@cynic

Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob Mortimer

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