The Digital Nervous System

The web can function like a giant extension of the human nervous system. Like a spider at the center of a giant global web, you can collect and observe streams of data coming from all over the digital expanse: searches, tweets, forums, blogs, newspaper and magazine sites, press releases, Facebook and LinkedIn. Each time someone looks for or mentions your company or your product you are alerted, and you can choose in that moment to respond to it, ignore it or wait until you have more information.

Does this sound like anything you are doing now? Someone should be doing this for your company, because marketing has increasingly become an ongoing series of conversations (whether you participate in the conversation or not).


There are several national TV shows that frequently have book authors as guests (the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America). The next time you find yourself in front of one of these shows when an author is on plugging their book, try the following experiment (this will work best with a show with a national audience):

1. Fire up your laptop and go to
2. Search in the Books category for the title of the book the author is plugging on the show you are watching
3. Click to the Amazon page for that book.
4. Scroll down past the synopsis and the reviews to the section labelled Product Details. It should look something like this:

The number I have circled is the book’s current sales rank on Amazon.

5. Every few minutes while the author is on the show and for a while after that (until you bore of this experiment), hit function key f5 to refresh the page and watch what happens to the book’s sales ranking.

The rank should get better – in real time – as you are sitting there. I have done this several times when my brother-in-law has done TV appearances to promote his books, and it is amazing. Once he was on Oprah Winfrey and we saw the sales rank improve precipitously from 20-something into the top 10 while he was being interviewed.

Now imagine all the other analogous information streams there are available on the internet. If you could get the monitoring automated, just think of how quickly you will know exactly what the world thinks of your new site, your new ad campaign, your new product. Just think of what you’d be missing by NOT knowing.


In between rank checks you should do check in on Twitter searches for the author’s name and the book’s name. These should also pop during the author’s TV appearance.


After a day or so you should go to Google Trends and see what happened to searches for the author’s name and the book’s name. These should’ve spiked on the day the author did the TV appearance. Google Trends doesn’t provide much flexibility about getting more granular (in time) data in a more real-time way, and it looks like the beta for Google Insights for Search has a latency of a couple of days.


Take a look at the Google Flutrends project ( and you can see what an amazingly useful datasource this would be with access to the full detail in realtime. It turns out that counting Google searches for flu information is a quicker detector of flu epidemics than CDC reports are.

I believe it would be just as accurate in detecting other kinds of contagion sweeping through the world: fads, emerging trends, scares, rumors, accidents, disasters – this is the kind of information that businesses need to know when it involves their products, their brands, or their markets.

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