It appears that Google Flu Trends (GFT) has slipped quietly into the night. In a short post to the Google Research blog, the team behind GFT announced that they are "no longer publishing" flu estimates, effectively ending the seven-year-old experiment. The GFT home page now links to some historical datasets.
The post was dated August 15, and it appears that mainstream media completely missed it.
GFT was one of the canonical examples of "Big Data" at work. You have unimaginably massive amounts of search data that are accumulating in real time. The GFT project was a bold attempt to turn this data into a public good. However, the experiment encountered a lot of technical problems. As documented here, GFT suffered from crippling inaccuracies which necessitated several overhauls in its brief life.
Despite the teething problems, I had hoped that the GFT team would continue to work on this problem. Google is one of the few companies that can afford the resources required to push ahead with this project. It appears that the engineers working on it found the challenges too hard or not interesting enough to overcome.
This development does not bode well for Big Data projects. The OCCAM nature of the data presents a host of challenges, and until we find ways to cope with them, we will continue to have false starts.