Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Google essentials

A little-known side of the world’s most-popular search engine is its philanthropic arm called Google.org. It focuses on areas where core technologies of Google can be put to social good. One of their projects is Google Earth Engine that makes available online huge amounts of data about our planet, and tools for scientists to analyse them.

Another is Google Dengue and Flu Trends. Recently, researchers at John Hopkins University found that Flu Trends is a good indicator for doctors to keep track of the disease and prepare hospitals for a surge of patients.

The premise is simple -- there are more flu-related searches during the flu season. But, to find out if there is any relation between the search pattern and actual incidence of the disease, Google compared two sets of data -- one, an estimation of the prevalence of the disease based on search pattern, and two, the official surveillance data on the actual incidence. And, lo and behold! they do match, to a great extent. Google Flu Trends doesn’t cover India, but Dengue Trends does.

In fact, the Search Box has wide uses in specific categories. It can be used as a dictionary or thesaurus. If you type “define: oology”, you get the meaning of the word and the pronunciation, besides links to Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster. You can get the meanings of most of words translated into 63 languages including Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Gujarati and Bengali.

Find flight timings on Google. Type “Flight Bengaluru to Delhi” in Google search box. If you click on “Schedule of non-stop flights” you get a complete list of all flights. At the bottom of the table, click on “All flights from Bengaluru” or “All flights to Delhi” to get more options.

You can use the search box for everyday essentials. Type out the calculation you like to do into the search box. Use it for unit conversion too: type: “6 m in feet”. Use it as a world clock: type: “Time London” to know the real time in that city. Search for “Weather Bangalore” and you get the temperature, humidity, cloud condition, wind speed, and temperature prediction for three days, besides links to weather sites. Similarly, search for “sunrise” and “sunset” for cities. Some amount of public data too is available, like population of different countries.

Google Insights for Search gives data on specific regions, categories, time frames and properties; enabling better use of cyberspace for collecting and disseminating information.

(This article was published in Wireless World column in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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