According to an article in the Financial Times, Google is toying with the idea of launching a "Google Price Index" or GPI, a twist on the government's CPI Index, a measurement of growth or decrease in prices for consumer goods.

Essentially, Google wants to tap its vast database of consumer product and shopping data to automate an index that the government still builds by sending people to stores to manually check prices. The primary downside to the government approach is a significant time lag before data are published. Google is considering publishing the Google Price Index on a daily basis.

Google has not definitely decided to publish this information yet, and I'm not sure it will do a lot for Google. At the same time, many data publishers are in strong positions to create business indexes of their own, and they can be powerful marketing tools if not new products in their own right.

Not every data publisher has the opportunity to create an index product. At a minimum you need comprehensive coverage of a market and good quality data that is refreshed regularly. You're in even better shape if you capture transactional data of any kind.

Creating an index needs to be done carefully, but it's not rocket science. At its essence, you measure certain things and track how they change over time. Once you've built your index and developed some history for it, you can compare it to changes in your industry or even the overall economy. The better the correlation, the more valuable the index.

Once you've got your index, the fun begins. You can name it after your company, a great way to build market visibility and credibility. Consider payroll company ADP, whose "ADP National Employment Report," spun directly out of its payroll database, rivals the official employment statistics in importance. Statistics like indexes make great news fodder, and they're sure to get you lots of valuable publicity. You'll often find your data being incorporated into reports and presentations, and all this solidifies your position as the industry expert and data source. The marketing and publicity angles are almost unlimited. Best of all, the more people who use and refer to your index, the more influential it becomes, encouraging even more people to use it and even depend on it for forecasting and analysis purposes.

Best of all, you can get all the marketing and publicity benefits of a good index just by publishing top-line data. That means you also get a revenue opportunity by being able to sell the detail information. Index data also has time-series value, meaning that old data can be just as valuable as new data. Not surprisingly, you'll also find that index data is usually interesting to a whole new group of customers than you currently serve, meaning you can broaden your customer base as you grow new revenue.

If the idea of creating an index intrigues you, or if you are generally interested in opportunities in developing statistical information from your data products, you'll want to attend DataContent 2010 in Philadelphia the week after next (there are still a few seats left),  which includes a session on this very topic.