Some ideas are so simple you wonder why nobody's thought of them before. Google's flu trends is one of these. Some bods at Google noticed that by cross referencing searching for flu symptoms they could predict outbreaks by monitoring search patterns:
"So why bother with estimates from aggregated search queries? It turns out that traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, but Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza."
Google Trends is a very useful and powerful tool and this shows how the company can work beyond just mere search. Their Flu Trends is one of those little snippets that makes you excited about the web all over again - and shows that it's more than just a bunch of geeks sitting around talking about social media (guilty as charged). With this kind of data, there's no end to what else they could achieve, not least for our health.