a Priority by Jason Kobs — Posted on March 1st, 2016

– Nicholas Felton

"There’s a universe of personal data around us. The thing I’m trying to do with my work is connect people with the footprints or data they create.

At PopTech 2009, Nicholas Felton examines what a weeklong-snapshot of New York Times’ front pages reveals about America.

How it all started for me...

This guy on the left is Nicholas Felton. He has been creating designs for a while, but what is he most known for? His highly specific and personal annual reports. He owns the space on personal data visualazation. Infact he started a company called Daytum that provides a simple, configurable interface with basic graphs and charts for those dedicated enough to enter in a spreadsheet full of personal data. Needless to say, I was a paying member for a year, but more on that later.

My interest in personal data revolves around a love of math, respect for science, and the impact of knowing one's self. I've always had an interest in information graphics and the craftspeople who straddle the line between science and art daily to do their art. The power of science distilled into a working visual that anyone can read. It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Inforgraphs require artists and designers to create highly acrticulate pictures that must be true to the data.

There was a moment of confirmation when sports/life data devices like Fitbit hit the market, and gamification platforms became all the rage. This new industry of personal data management is simply the start. Consider tracking your personal health, your daily habits, how you use your phone, how productive you are. These outcomes are far more important than how fast you ran today. We can tap into this metadata, just like the government, and identify hidden patterns in our lives. Imagine the insights… Imagine making a simple change to your habitual use of your cell phone and the profound impact it could have on your life.

Monitoring Software

Understanding the tools of the trade

There have always been ways of recording important data, but I've been looking for ways to gather data in the background. This is significant for three reasons. The first, I don't want to sepnd my whole day entering things into spreadsheets. Tracking info manually is a pain in the ass. I moved a lot of data around with Daytum and it was time consuming just to get the data into a format that you can work with.

Secondly, it has to be reliable. If I miss a day or a few days it makes the whole experiement moot. It cannot rely on me remembering. I'm very forgetful, too many things in my head.

Lastly, I need it to track everything. Everything that I know about and even the things that I don't. How am I to know what data will be interesting and what won't? It's too early in the process to be deciding the value of data. As soon as you start to monitor or measure something you change your habits. I wanted to avoid all of that. Track everything all the time.

Creating a Report

As this market expands so do the prospective solutions. Sadly, there is no silver bullet solution, probably never will be. There are so many segments that are ripe for personal data visualization that it will become an industry in itself.

The highly customized nature of a report like this makes it pretty unique, potentially remarkable. My report will be focused on the computer and mobile usage. This initial focus is inpart because of the technological monitoring offered today and also to help myself understand the impact of screen time. Mobile screentime in particular.

Over a year into tracking my behavior, it has yet to produce insight, but I see the numbers stacking up and can't wait to dive in. I've also reached out to many service providers to get a better understanding of my personal account usage, but there is little they can do for me. Without this application specific data a lot of the nuance will be lost, but it is also something to look forward to.

An early exploration in my own data visualization with 4Squre checkins.

Consume the Data

The monitors have been in place. The data has been collected. Now it's just time to make sense of it. My Javascript hookups will have to help me make a web interface to distill a few massive XML files.