Unconventional Data

Economic prognosticators are increasingly looking for indicators in unconventional urban data. The newest offbeat predictors are finding information in obscure places -- but can they be trusted in forecasts?

Prognosticators and urban planners have been looking for economic indicators in unconventional urban data like the number of telephone calls to a helpline or the number of one-bedroom apartments advertised on Craig's List. Economists say that the newest offbeat indicators, aided by the advances in Internet technology, are "painting even timelier and more geographically specific pictures of economic forces" than those looked to by previous generations. But others think urban data is more volatile and harder to incorporate into analysis and forecasts.

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