Odd Places to Find Valuable Data
It’s amazing what you can do with data when you start collecting it. Start off collecting data for one reason and you may find yourself using it for any number of reasons in the future. There are many examples of this to be found on the Internet.
As I’ve discussed previously (What Makes Google so Special), Google is a massive data collection machine. They grab so much data that it is easy to go back later and slice it to look at it in different ways. One valuable service they provide is their Google Flu Trends. This service takes search terms that have been determined to go hand-in-hand with Influenza outbreaks along with geographic data on where those search terms are taking place to create a very accurate presentation around where outbreaks are occurring. These are not as accurate as CDC figures (a good article on this here) but they are cheap, and quick with a very low resource utilization. Below is a comparison of Google’s trending vs the official CDC numbers. Pretty accurate for what it is.
A great site to see other trending information that Google has for any search term is Google Insights for Search.
But Google isn’t the only place to find alternative ways to look at interesting data.
Eric Fischer takes geo-tagged photos from flickr to determine where tourists and locals congregate in major cities.
Blue points on the map are pictures taken by locals (people who have taken pictures in this city dated over a range of a month or more).
Red points are pictures taken by tourists (people who seem to be a local of a different city and who took pictures in this city for less than a month).
The graphic below is San Francisco. If you click on it, it will open the live map on Eric’s site that will show you the individual neighborhoods. If you know San Francisco at all, you will quickly see that it is very accurate.
There are countless other sources for this kind of data. Twitter alone can be used to track nearly anything using their search functions (maybe I’ll hit that in another post).
Aside from this being really interesting to me, the point I would have you take from this is that you should be collecting any data in your business that you possibly can. It may not seem, today, like anything you might need, but down the road you may be able to slice and splice that data to be able to give you some insights that would not otherwise be possible