Saturday, January 26, 2013

Personal Analytics - Metrics closer to home.

We regularly see articles and blogs discussing steps to improve all aspects of your life; each one touting the true secret to being more productive, using your time better, finding peace and balance, becoming a better leader, and more. All of those posts are really quite appealing because they describe things that we all want to find. Many of them have some excellent suggestions about how to do this, usually in the form of “Be more productive with these 3 simple steps.” Most of those steps find their way into New Year’s resolutions or goals, all with good intentions. This will be the year! But how do you know you have successfully implemented those resolutions and goals? To quote Jon Soldan, “what does success look like?”

While the name might sound new and catchy, personal analytics has been around for some time (No, analytics are not just for business). For people interested in fitness, keeping track of their progress has been part of the regimen. Perhaps they simply called it calorie counting and kept a record of what they ate each day. Then later they may have added their daily exercise log. Over time, and with some good record keeping, there would be some data to analyze. From this analysis patterns would emerge and goals could be set by acting on that information (parallels with KBR's and KBI's?). Ways to improve health could be determined based on past behavior and performance. Now add in the smart phone and some apps and you have an excellent opportunity to easily record data and bring personal analytics into your life and not just in regards to fitness.

Analysis of Stephen Wolfram's data
While fitness might seem to be the obvious start, that isn’t the only place that data analysis of your life can take place. Recently, Stephen Wolfram posted a blog [ l  about his own life and the data he has kept, some of it for more than 20 years. He tracked incoming and outgoing email, keystrokes, meetings & events, phone calls, and steps taken during the day to name a few. After all those years of record keeping, he finally decided to analyze it. Mr. Wolfram put a lot of effort towards recording that data, and for what reason? Mr. Wolfram said “the more routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life, the more I am able to be energetic—and spontaneous—about intellectual and other things. And for me one of the objectives is to have ideas, and hopefully good ones. So can personal analytics help me measure the rate at which that happens?” He is still answering that question but my guess is he will probably find some patterns that correlate to when those good ideas came to mind in the past.

As a result of Mr. Wolfram’s blog, his company now offers a free analysis of your Facebook activity and history [].  I decided to run an analysis on my own Facebook activity, which turned out to be rather lame because I don’t really have any activity. To make this analysis a bit more interesting, I have added my wife’s and my 17 year old daughter’s Facebook analysis for comparison.

                      Myself                                            Spouse                                       17 yr old daughter

I think some interesting data pops out really quickly: My daughter likes Facebook and typically posts status updates. That one large spike indicates a lot of pictures were uploaded. I’ll bet that was the day after a big dance. Comparatively, my wife doesn't appear to be too interested in Facebook and the small amount of time spent on the site is devoted to uploading family photos. I don’t like Facebook (that one status update and posted link was probably an attempt to Rick-Roll people) and the data tells all. You can see the result of my Facebook apathy in my friend network.

                    Myself                                              Spouse                                        17 yr old daughter

The report, which you can also run here, Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report (You will need to create a free Wolfram Alpha account) provides some interesting views of your Facebook activity. I am not entirely sure how you might use this to improve your life at the moment. Perhaps you have time management goals? However, this might be very important for a business that has a Facebook presence. Additionally, if the time comes that an individual can generate income from their Facebook page, this report will become much more useful.

Another interesting tool is the Google Account Report [].  We all know that Google keeps gobs of information about us. Now we get to see what some of that data looks like:

From this panel, I can see what my Gmail and Google Calendar history was for the past month. Apparently, I’m down 26% in the amount of e-mail sent, which is probably the result of Christmas vacation. Placing the mouse pointer over the gray bars on the graph indicates a specific date within the report. Questions I might ask are “how productive was I that day? Can I correlate productivity with the amount of e-mail sent?” Perhaps more data is needed here. This report might be quite useful for a business that has subscribed to Google Apps.

For many, the interest in personal analytics is the idea of improving performance, either in fitness or other aspects in life. The ability to use smart phones to capture data with little interaction from the user is remarkable. The arena of personal analytics is expected to grow rapidly within the next few years, perhaps more so in the medical field as more people take responsibility for their health. There are numerous other tools besides smart phones as well (See the IBM Business Value Study regarding connected health devices click here, there is a pdf download). One of those tools is an HRM, a heart rate monitor. This device can record your heart rate quite accurately and provides a log. Over time, not only can you measure how you performed during a regular daily work out, you can additionally measure how you preformed at races or competitions as well. Use your smart phone and some apps to measure your mood, your diet for the day, add the HRM, even a GPS map of your path, and you can get a very interesting picture of the variables that may have helped, or hindered you, during that last 5K. This data collection is not only for the athlete. Individuals using the devices simply to monitor their heart rate and blood pressure over time create a baseline. As more people capture personal data, and are willing share, a pool of Big Data for businesses and medical professionals becomes available to tap into for research, product development, and marketing.

No matter what your goals are, or the metrics you have decided to record about yourself, a good place to start is the community portal Quantified Self [ h ]. They have a variety of resources available and even a local chapter here in Salt Lake. They even have conferences! One important follow up note, and this was touched upon in an earlier post on this blog titled “Giving up Privacy for Convenience” [ m ], you might have privacy concerns. In this post I shared some of my own personal analytics in an effort to show the capabilities of the tools. I wrestled with this since I am concerned with online privacy. Oddly enough, I'm not the only one who has used their own Wolfram Alpha report as an example. Try the following Google search "facebook personal analytics results". Personal analytics and privacy is a topic that is just beginning to be discussed. It is true that there is power in logging and analyzing personal data. But data recorded is data accessible.

1.       Data about your online activity -
2.       Health -
g. - Still in closed beta.

3.       A place to start -
4.       Blogs -
5.       Privacy -


  1. Great article. This is definitely something that we all should look at. I had a professor once tell me that what we should look at putting on our resumes was metrics of our work experience, showing the numbers of what we had accomplished. I think some of these tools would be great to help compile that.

    1. I had never even considered that you could/should put some of that kind data on your resume... makes sense though. Thanks for the comment, that is a really good idea.

  2. I guess I'm a personal analytics junkie! I love to track my progress and stats. Thanks for the links to sites where I can retrieve even more data!

  3. This is awesome and your post just made my bookmark list. Don't let this fool you this is a highly coveted place and one that many web pages are competing for right now!