According to an article at ScienceBlog, all of us who enter our currency at Where’s George have been helping model the spread of infectious diseases. The authors of the study were trying to model the spread of disease in modern society and happened to find out about Where’s George.
If you’re not familiar with the site, registered users enter the serial numbers of their currency, which the systems records with the user’s ZIP code. As the bills change hands, people continue to enter the serial numbers, providing a trail showing the bill’s progress across the country over time. You’re notified whenever one of your bills is entered again, and points are allocated based on a formula. They’ve even added integration with Google Maps so you can visualize the path. if you’re really into it, you can buy special stamps to mark the bills so that users are encouraged to visit the site and register the bill.
Anyway, since money gets passed from person to person just like a virus would be, these researchers were able to use the data to develop a model that describes the movement of travelers over both short and long distances. Nice to know that all this time I was actually helping to work toward a scientific breakthrough and not just playing a silly game. I wonder how many ways you can split a Nobel Prize?