Interesting timing... The ambitious (and potentially life-saving) Google.org new initiative to help track flu as per Official Google Blog: Tracking flu trends has been announced within all of about 9 days after the New York Times Book Review covered The Numerati by Stephen Baker .
Seems the google Flu Tracking project fits right in to The Numerati's concepts, but in a much more altruistic way... Here is an excerpt from the aforementioned NYT review by Rob Walker:
'...the most interesting information comes from us, particularly by way of our online activities. Baker’s savants monitor our collective (if anonymous) Web surfing patterns for “behavioral clues” that, for example, help advertisers decide when to hit us with what pitch.
You probably already have a sense that this sort of thing is going on, but Baker uncovers some surprising details. A chapter on efforts to convert the information disclosed by bloggers and users of social networks is among the most interesting. Baker offers an anecdote about a firm called Umbria helping a cellphone company that’s decided to charge more for Bluetooth data connections, a move that “sent bloggers into a fury.” Umbria, which studies bloggers and divides them into tribes, concluded that all the spleen-venting was coming from the “power users,” whereas “the fashionistas, the music lovers, the cheapskates” did not care. “With this intelligence,” Baker writes, the company could placate the power users by offering them “free” service (while raising the prices on headsets) and “continue charging everyone else.” He goes on to describe Umbria’s efforts to teach its computers to interpret blogs and draw conclusions from different phrases, font choices, background colors and even emoticons.
On one level, this is just the low comedy of the profit motive: our finest techno-wizards and their beautiful machines wrestling with the meaning of “:)” so that some cellphone company can micro-target its fee increases. But Baker also, in effect, offers a counternarrative to the usual story about the digital revolution. While millions of ordinary citizens have been empowered to express their individuality with a panoply of new tools, a smaller number of people have been working out the most efficient ways to convert those individuals into numbers on a spreadsheet.We used to go about our business and let marketers try to catch up with us. “Today,” he writes, “we spy on ourselves and send electronic updates minute by minute.” '