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The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY -

ONE of the projects that the UN Global Pulse has con­ducted so far is to com­pare on­line con­ver­sa­tions with of­fi­cial na­tional sta­tis­tics to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of un­em­ploy­ment trends. This was car­ried out in the United States and Ire­land over a pe­riod of three months.

“The main find­ing was that it was pos­si­ble to use on­line data that is pub­licly avail­able to pro­vide ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tive in­di­ca­tions of a pend­ing spike in un­em­ploy­ment,” says I-Sah Hsieh, global man­ager of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment at an­a­lyt­ics soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany, SAS In­sti­tute (SAS).

“In Ire­land, there was an in­creased chat­ter about food, then hous­ing, and then down­grad­ing trans­porta­tion that pre­ceded a spike in un­em­ploy­ment. In the US, neg­a­tive chat­ter about health­care ex­penses in­creased, fol­lowed by neg­a­tive em­ploy­ment chat­ter, and then in­creased use of pub­lic trans­porta­tion pre­ceded un­em­ploy­ment spikes.”

Since the project’s com­ple­tion, he says that govern­ment agencies from var­i­ous coun­tries have shown great in­ter­est in in­cor­po­rat­ing the best prac­tices from the project into their ex­ist­ing real-time reporting en­vi­ron­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to Hsieh, the United States and Ire­land were cho­sen for the project be­cause they were both English speak­ing na­tions, so that made it sim­pler to an­a­lyse data be­tween the two coun­tries. At the same time, how­ever, both na­tions had very dis­tinct cul­tures and had large amounts of of­fi­cial labour sta­tis­tics avail­able.

Promis­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties

Since the suc­cess of its pioneer project, the UN Global Pulse has been re­search­ing wider ap­pli­ca­tions for such real time on­line data feed­back mech­a­nisms.

It also car­ried out an­other project with SAS in In­done­sia to track the move­ment of food, fuel and job in­di­ca­tors.

Other ap­pli­ca­tions it has con­sid­ered in­clude us­ing anony­mous telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions call records to mon­i­tor mass mi­gra­tion pat­terns and iden­ti­fy­ing signs of fi­nan­cial hard­ship from mo­bile ac­count reload pat­terns. For in­stance, when people who used to reload US$5 (RM17) each time now only reload in US$1 (RM3.30) in­cre­ments.

“There are also health re­lated projects they are con­sid­er­ing which are sim­i­lar to Google’s study on flu trends, but per­haps us­ing Twit­ter or Face­book in­stead,” says Hsieh, adding that so­cial me­dia trends have proven to be bet­ter in­di­ca­tors than web search pat­terns alone.

Room for im­prove­ment

On the whole, Hsieh ad­mits that there are still ar­eas to be ironed out in terms of how real time on­line data anal­y­sis can be con­ducted.

“The pro­cesses used in min­ing data on­line for hid­den trends and know­ing which data sources are best suited for which types of prob­lems will con­tinue to im­prove with real world prac­tice,” he says.

Nev­er­the­less, Hsieh sees a bright fu­ture for the use of such an­a­lyt­ics tools when placed in the hands of the UN and sim­i­larly, other na­tional pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

“Never be­fore has the UN had the op­por­tu­nity to have a con­ver­sa­tion with all the global cit­i­zens as they draft and cre­ate new poli­cies per­tain­ing to com­plex so­cio-eco­nomic is­sues. With SAS, they now have the abil­ity to pose a ques­tion, lis­ten to and an­a­lyse re­sponses from the cit­i­zens of the en­tire world in or­der to help ev­ery­one make bet­ter in­formed de­ci­sions,” he says.

So while it may bother us to have our data shared with the au­thor­i­ties, per­haps it may not al­ways be a bad thing, since ul­ti­mately it is to our ben­e­fit if the govern­ment is able to ar­rive at bet­ter pub­lic poli­cies as a re­sult.

Tell­tale signs: In the united States, neg­a­tive chat­ter about health­care ex­penses led to neg­a­tive em­ploy­ment chat­ter that was then fol­lowed by un­em­ploy­ment spikes.

Shar­ing data may not al­ways be a bad thing if it leads to bet­ter pub­lic poli­cies.

Com­par­ing on­line con­ver­sa­tions with of­fi­cial na­tional sta­tis­tics pro­vides a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of un­em­ploy­ment trends.

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