Swine flu is dominating Google search. For the past two days (in the US at least), discussions around “swine flu”, “pig flu” and other such iterations have at least 10 references in the top 100 US searches, according to Google Trends. While not in the top five searches, people aren’t simply searching for “swine flu”, they’re searching for “swine flu deaths in California” and other such specific references – breaking up the overall search.
It was the idea that people search for things related to illness that was the basis of Google’s Flu Trends – a service they set up in 2007-2008. Their thinking is that when people get sick, they’ll type in symptoms or descriptions of the illness into Google in an attempt to learn more about the disease – and cure. Google discovered that if there was an outbreak or a pandemic, that they would be able to predict it up to two weeks faster than the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). This is the power of Google – in terms of being a “database of intent”, it knows what people are doing & thinking because it knows what people are searching for, on a mass global scale.
The bottom line of search and online activity is – people want to know whether it is near them, and whether swine flu will kill them. So how has the social media space reacted?
The Wikipedia listing for Swine Flu refers to a mortality rate of around 10% (the Wikipedia page has been viewed 114,687 times so far in April vs 237 times in March – and edited over 100 times in the past day). Google Maps has a live map, listing every outbreak of swine flu – as it happens! The subject “swine flu” is the number 1 trending topic on Twitter. Nielsen Blogpulse is showing the topic making up over 1.75% of all blog posts today.