Better Living Through Data

Back in the 1980s, American chemical company DuPont had a marketing slogan “better living through chemistry.”  Of course, it was then adapted to mean other not so nice things.

In today’s Internet age, I think we’re seeing the rise of better living through data.

Businesses are already pretty used to using data to improve how they operate.  It’s common for a business to hire a business intelligence analyst, who analyzes the data that your company creates to help you identify ways improve efficiency of sales or operations.  The online advertising world is seeing a data revolution.  With the wealth of data being produced online, advertisers can target their ads to the people that would benefit from seeing them.

But I’m not talking about businesses, I’m talking about the onset of a personal data revolution.  We’re seeing the start of using technology to better track, analyze, and improve various parts of your daily personal life.

Here’s a few apps that I’ve used or am fond of…

I’m a HUGE fan of the iPhone app RunKeeper. If I carry my iPhone with me when I go for a run, it’ll track how far and fast I ran automatically.  I can also take it with me to the gym and manually enter it.   They’ve also recently made it possible for third party systems to send in health data.  Everything is then stored in their master database.   Their website will then help me understand my progress achieving my health goals.

One app/gadget that I haven’t tried but want to is FitBit.  It’s a little gadget that you can attach to your clothes.  It’ll log your movement and sleeping patterns and visualize that data for you.  It can also pipe that data into RunKeeper database

Also in the health space, there are apps like WeightWatchers.  It assigns a point system to foods based on it’s nutritional facts.  You then subtract points from your daily allotment based on what you eat.  It helps you see what you eat and learn to keep things in better moderation.    It’s cool but I haven’t used it.  *sigh*  I should. I wish there was a way that you could do this automatically.  Can’t they stick a little computer in my stomach that’d auto-log whatever I eat.

More in the social media space, there’s Klout which I’ve actively been using lately.  I give it access to a number of my social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare.)  It then assigns a Klout score to me based on how often I influence the people who follow me (clicks, re-shares, retweets.)   I can then start to figure out what I had done over certain periods of time to figure out how that effected my influence (or Klout score).  For example, when I went on my honeymoon, I didn’t post to my social networks and thus my Klout Score dropped.

Similarly, I use HootSuite as the tool to post links & updates to all the various social networks (Facebook & Twitter).  HootSuite will automatically generate a report to tell me which links were clicked, how often, and what social networks they resonated with.  Compared with all the links about the professional topics that I share, links about my wedding or honeymoon got 10x the number of clicks.

So… these apps are great!  They’re starting to give us data that allows us to wrap our heads around the activities that we do on a daily basis and how those activities affect of our lives.   The next step is helping us to better take that data and using it  to improve how we do stuff going forward.   For example, I should run/exercise different.   For social media, I need to tweet more about these type of stories because it’s what my audience cares about.

Do you use any of these tools?  What are other tools that you use to better understand the data that you produce in your life?   What do you think of the tools?  How could they improve?

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2 thoughts on “Better Living Through Data”

  1. I’ve been meaning to write up a similar blog post. I recently gave a talk at OSCON on “Playful Explorations of Public & Personal Data” about this topic – http://www.slideshare.net/ajturner/playful-explorations-of-public-and-personal-data-oscon-data-2011

    In particular, I’ve been using mapping (surprise?) to visualize my social networks and even used it to help buy a house (I wanted to live at a magical convergence of metro, capital bikeshare, parks, good beer, food without (too many) healthcode violations and in an older house)

    The result:
    http://geocommons.com/maps/78378

    All with free and open data and tools.

  2. Mint.com all the way across the sky. Mint.com has a native iOS app that is incredibly helpful in understanding and tracking your financial data on the go. I personally use it to keep spending habits from becoming, well bad habits as well as keeping an eye out for strange activity on any one of my accounts I’ve plugged into it. If you leverage mint.com to it’s fullest extent I think it can directly impact your health/wellness for a number of reasons. For me it keeps me worry free about my finances while cutting down the time required to manage them so I can spend more time doing the things I’d rather do like commenting on the blogs of some of DC’s greatest tech minds 😀

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