Call them what you will: canaries in coal mines, black swans, predictors. Here at Thinknum, we've been collecting external, alternative data from hundreds of thousands of the world's businesses, from job listings to the number of people adopting pets. And as we enter into turbulent economic times, we're keeping an eye on some dataset that indicates real-time economic and consumer trends that will be able to tell us not just how bad things get, but also when we may be seeing a return to normalcy. Here are 10 that you can watch daily with us via a dashboard we've set up just for that purpose. And below, here's what we're seeing as of today.


1. Travel agency bookings

A growing list of countries are closing their borders as they work to contain the pandemic. Tuniu ($TOUR), a travel agency based in China, posts the number of trips it's booked on its website. Since January — when the virus first struck China — that number plateaued. As the country emerges from the other side of the pandemic — and as borders open around the world — we'll look to see this number begin to increase once again.

2. Gym memberships

Social distancing is the word of the day, the week, the month, perhaps even the year. Gyms around the world are closing their doors as a result, and we track net member growth at Australian gym Viva Leisure ($ASX:VVA). The number plummeted last week, and we'll be looking to see this rise once again when it's safe for people to head back to the gym.


3. Gig job listings

Just as Upwork ($UPWK) — one of the world's leading gig-economy marketplaces — was preparing its fourth-quarter earnings report, it purged 1.8-million users from its community. This allowed the company's CEO to report to investors that it was focusing on larger employers for a smaller, more skilled talent pool. While this may have made sense at the time, it's likely that millions of suddenly out-of-work people will turn to sites like Upwork to make ends meet. Here's hoping that this trendline moves up in the coming weeks and months.


4. Twitch viewership

Cable news and streaming TV viewership are both skyrocketing as billions of people stay home, but one industry that's seeing immediate benefit from legions of idle quarantiners is that of videogames. In just the past couple weeks, viewership on Twitch.tv ($AMZN) — the world's largest videogame streaming site and now owned by Amazon — has taken off. Doubly interesting is the fact that some of the most popular channels as of late are the network's "just chatting" channels as gamers look to simply socialize.


5. Pet adoptions

For those Americans who are stuck at home, healthy, and have the resources to support a new pet, adoption is a great option. Every day, PetSmart ($PETSMART) lists the number of adoptions it's doled out from its various stores. And, as you can see below, the number of adoptions in recent weeks has accelerated — in just two weeks, the number of adoptions at PetSmart has grown from 9.13- to 9.23-million


6. Hotel and hospitality job postings

An almost complete freeze to the travel industry isn't just affecting booking agencies, airlines, and cruise companies. The world's largest hotel chains have all cut hiring as they wait things out. We're already seeing precipitous drops in listings from Hilton ($HLT), Marriott ($MAR), and even Trump Hotels ($PRIVATE:TRUMP). Once we emerge from the crisis, we'll look for the hospitality industry to ramp up hiring exponentially as billions of cabin-fever-crazy humans look to get out and get away.


7. Cruise line pricing

If hotels, airlines, and travel agents are adversely affected by the outbreak, cruise lines are dead center, with some on the verge of collapse. We track Carnival Cruise ($CCL) pricing daily, and we've seen pricing plummet for all cruises as of late. When ships begin sailing again, we'll look for this to reverse course, if a bit slowly.



8. Online classes

China was the first to lock things down as it was struck with the pandemic, forcing citizens to stay at home and make do with what they could. But it wasn't until major cities in the US issued shelter-in-place orders that Classting ($PRIVATE:CLASSTING) — an online K-college course management site — saw its number of classes skyrocket. While we saw a jump in classes around this time last year, the uptick in the past couple of weeks has been massive, and we expect it to continue to grow as more cities close schools. We'll be looking for this to flatten out once school is back in session, likely in the fall.

9. Remote-work software usage

For many remote workers, Zoom ($ZM), Webex ($CSCO), and Slack ($WORK) are already part of a daily software toolkit. But for millions of others, working from home is a new thing, and they're all scrambling to integrate collaboration software into their new routines. ZOOM Cloud Meetings has seen a huge order-of-magnitude bump in the number of users posting reviews about the software, and we're beginning to see the same for both Slack and Cisco Webex. While this is certainly good news for companies that thrive on a remote-work economy, check back here to see how these apps stick once people head back into their respective offices.

See the full dashboard in realtime here.

Additional research by Stella Weng, Justin Zhen, and Gregory Ugwi. Art by John Lee.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

Further Reading: