Video Chat and Flu Trends

By thauckthauck (1226498545|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

There have been a couple of really interesting Google developments since the last time we had an update in class. I think the fact that these updates are so random highlights one of my favorite parts about Google: they do everything!

Google Video Chat

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This week, Google has added video and voice chat to its popular Gmail service. This new function is integrated into the Google Talk feature that already exists on Gmail. What makes this particular method of video chatting more convenient than pre-existing video chat software is that users merely have to add a plug-in to their browser to be able to use it, versus services like Skype that require users to download a full program and create an account.

My Thoughts

Personally, I am excited to start using this service. I am a big video chatter and have been ever since I got a MacBook with a built in iSight camera. I started as a user of Apple’s iChat program and eventually worked my way over to Skype. This summer, Skype was the main way I kept in touch with friends in family while I traveled abroad in Europe. That being said, one of my favorite features of Skype that Google doesn’t currently offer is that you can actually use it to call real phones and for cheap. I added about $20 of calling time to my Skype account when I got to Europe and I called the United States on numerous occasions to talk to family for what was sometimes up to 40 minutes. I still have over $10 dollars on my account! You really can’t beat that price for international calling.

I imagine that over the next few days and weeks that I will test out the Google video chat more than a few times. I have a lot of friends that are spread out all over the entire country, and while I could potentially chat with them on Skype, I don’t. It’s not so convenient to have to find out what their user name is, add them, and remember to open Skype every time I am on my computer. Having video chat integrated to Gmail, which I am absolutely and totally addicted to, makes the whole process way easier.

Tracking Flu Trends

As the winter cold and season descends upon us all, Google.org (the non-profit arm of Google) has made a very interesting discovery: apparently there is a strong correlation between the number of searches of flu-related queries and actual cases of the flu. Google.org’s Predict and Protect Team has compiled this information and has started to track flu trends state by state. I got the following quote from an article about this service in the New York Post:

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"Our team found that certain aggregated search queries tend to be very common during flu season each year," the Web site posted on its official blog.

Terms such as "flu symptoms" or "muscle aches" are some common examples.

"We compared these aggregated queries against data provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and we found that there's a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week," the company said.

Right now, Michigan’s flu activity level is “Low”, but according to the historical graph, it looks like were headed straight towards a huge spike in flu levels.

My Thoughts

How perfect is this for what we’ve been discussing in BIT 330?! I think that this is a really cool example of why tracking trends can be super useful. What makes this data exciting is that it might actually give disease control specialists a new advantage in fighting the influenza virus. People are using Google as they get the flu, so activity ranking is very up-to-date meaning these officials can start to fight the virus as it happens, rather than just sit back and react to it.

I have to say that I think it is very cool that Google has this non-profit arm. The company is not only an innovator in web-based technology, but is also an extremely positive contributor to society in other ways. You really cannot say that about every company on Google’s level!

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