Google tries crowdsourcing the economy

First the flu, and now the economy. Google's decided that rather than wait for official economic statistics--like new housing starts or jobless claims, it instead will use its huge arsenal of search metrics to help better gauge current economic trends and indicators in real time. And it wants you to help.

Just like with Flu Trends and the spread of the flu, Google hopes to use search as a key window into the real-life economy. As Google's Hal Varian and Hyunyoung Choi say in the Research Blog announcing the initiative, Google's statistics are useful for showing present economic trends, like how many people are likely in the market right now for a car or house. And:

Predicting the present is useful, since it may help identify "turning points" in economic time series. If people start doing significantly more searches for "Real Estate Agents" in a certain location, it is tempting to think that house sales might increase in that area in the near future.

The two also wrote a paper, Predicting the Present with Google Trends, that shows how search data can be used to gauge activity in various economic areas, including auto sales, home sales, retail sales and travel.

To aid the effort, Google is urging users to download Google Trends data and try to relate it to other economic time series. Users who find interesting patterns are encouraged to e-mail Google at, and the most interesting results will be reported in a future blog.

The idea is that the more people working on the stats, the better the overall picture of the economy will emerge--and at a much faster rate than via official economic channels. Just think, using Google's stats, you could be the first on your block to know when the economy has truly bottomed out and is on the road to recovery--and then you could perhaps parlay that knowledge into some smart, on-the-ground-floor picks in the stock market, real estate or some other ready-to-recover marketplace.

Or not. Google doesn't seem quite ready to go that far yet, and instead chooses to equate its erstwhile economic stat partners with key-banging monkeys. Varian and Choi finish their blog this way:

It has been said that if you put a million monkeys in front of a million computers, you would eventually produce an accurate economic forecast. Let's see how well that theory works ...

Way to get us signed on.

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