Personal Analytics: You and Your Data

Personal Analytics

I want to welcome you to the world of data.  Data is everywhere. With the rise of personal computers, the internet and the smartphone, data has permeated our modern, western society.

Why care about data? Data is a reflection of our world- Health data is a reflection of ourselves. Because data tells us

  • that we are overweight
  • that our HDLs are high
  • that we have genetic predisposition for <take your pick>
  • that we ate this many servings of that and this many grams of that
  • that we took this many steps
  • that we spent this many hours doing this
  • and and and (Is Data infinite?)

Health data is a way to track and control our bodies.  It’s a direct link to self-improvement (You control what you measure). [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”]It’s also a good introduction to the data-driven tools, techniques and methodology – useful for anyone, in any field.[/highlight] [When you track something, say step on the scale each Monday Morning, it allows you to make decisions and do actions with that measurement in mind.  It’s easier to put down the fork and chew your food, if you know that you are watching yourself – that it will be reflected in a real number next Monday.  More ideas like this in an upcoming podcast -Newman]

Data is a representation of your (web) self

Think of your website as a part of you (or your business) – it’s your web self. A very real projection of your self.  Truly, it is your presence on the internet. People interact with it as they would you. When they think of you, they may imagine your website.  Your website is your face on the internet.

The health of your website can be represented with data. Doesn’t it make sense to apply those ideas of Self-improvement to your self and your website?    Do they follow the same rules and data tracking concepts that Ernesto Ramirez is talking about, in his blog post on Quantified Self.

Hey Data Ninja Wannabe – Meet the Quantified Self

Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self site,  says that data-logging and self-tracking is emergent in many different areas. [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”] The site tag line is “Self Knowledge Thru Numbers.”  You can replace ‘Self’ with ‘Web’ to get “Web Knowledge Thru Numbers”.[/highlight]  Doesn’t it seem  beneficial to do comparative analysis between two of those areas – Self-Tracking data and Web Analytics data ?  The personal data-loggers will gain insight from studying web analytics blogs / conferences / twitter streams.  And, vice versa.

I find the Quantified Self   insightful for the general philosophy of data tracking and analysis for improvement. It’s geared toward personal data logging, but I find it a nice bridge between the two worlds. This is especially powerful if you think of a website as an extension of self (or business) AND, that in order to learn something new you must first contextualize it with something familiar.  [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”]I think data logging or life logging can be a gateway for web analytics beginners into a wider data driven world.[/highlight]

Ernesto’s post is worth sharing specifically to you, dear BUX reader and learner of web data tracking. In it he talks about the concept of  SMART goals and objectives. We’ve talked about it before in the context of SMART goals for websites.  But, as he frames it, it’s really a general concept of data and tracking.

Below are some of my thoughts on the first two points of SMART.


S is for Specific. When you decide to track something it is best to choose something that is specific rather than general. For example, you might be interested in your cardiovascular health and you decide you want to start tracking exercise. Well, exercise is a very broad category and can include activities like gardening to training for ultra-marathons. In this example you would be better served to track a specific type or method of exercise.

Quantified Self

Specific is not general.  Measure steps taken – with a pedometer. Or miles ridden – with a cycle computer.  Which is more powerful?  I exercised twice last week.  I exercised twice last week for 15,000 steps.  Or, I exercised twice last week cycled 18 miles. In websites, you can measure visitors, of course.  But why not be more specific?  You can measure visitors from social media  or visitors from social media who are from California,  who stay on the site longer than 2mins, and who exit or enter on a certain page.

I’m reminded of the quote from the Mel Gibson movie.  Do remember the part just before he goes bat-shit crazy and savagely kills those dudes?  He tells his freaked out son – “Aim small. Miss small”.  I think this is perfect companion to the S(Specific) in SMART objectives. Actually, they both begin with S – Specific and Small.

"This my world, Monkey boy!"

Data has the right answers. But, do you have the right questions?


Tools, in large part, dictate what you can measure.  It’s all well and good to decide to measure hiccups – but how are you going to track that? It’s hard to measure, say Blood sugar level.  But you can measure that number of deserts you eat each week.  Better tools, like a diabetic blood sugar monitor, allow you to measure with greater specificity.

Here is a significant difference between Self logging and Website logging – pretty much everything is measurable in websites.  If it’s not in the raw server logs, then it’s in Google Analytics. If it’s not there, it could be in anther tool or you can roll your own script.  [highlight color=”eg. yellow, black”] If it’s digital it can be measured.  It’s already MADE of data and information. [/highlight].  A big problem with self tracking is converting analog to digital data – thus the tools and gadgets become important.  Pedometers, GPS trackers, and timers are the ways to collect data for the life logger.  AwStats, Google Analytics and Kissmeterics are the ways webmasters collect data on websites.

Take it away Ernesto

Take a look at Quantified Self 101: Make it SMART to read more about Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound. I think you will discover, like I did, that this type of cross pollination can be inspiring for the UX community.

8 comments on “Personal Analytics: You and Your Data

  1. Setting goals based on numbers is definitely beneficial. But, being the wellness professional that I am, I do have to say that getting too focused on numbers is NOT wellness…it’s how you FEEL that matters too! BALANCE and MODERATION in everything is WELLNESS!

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  3. Thank you, Ernesto. I really believe that your post catalyzed much of what I was learning about numbers, data, and the data-driven culture. Thank you for that. That checklist for SMART goals in this case is worthy of sharing. Here it is as a SMART goals Google Doc, which I downloaded as a .DOC to edit.

    Cara brings up a very important point as well. Life is not data – data is a representation. If we confuse the two – the thing for it’s representation, then we are on shaky ground. Certainly we’ve seen examples where the obsession over tracking and data has gone to far and has become destructive. I’m thinking of ‘cooking the books’ in business, but there are example in every data tracking field.

    Hopefully, that’s not too scary. I’m hoping to mix in more data into my life – with moderation! And, the Quantified Self website is a good place to follow the movement.

  4. If you are interested in this type of thing, I recommend reading Gary Wolf’s article for the New York Times: The Data-Driven Life

    It’s an article that really serves as a primer for this self-tracking data logging movement. I put it in my Instapaper to read que awhile back and got around to reading it last night. Very good. Also, I notice this morning there are 139 comments on the post. People are interested!

  5. Thanks for the kind words again and your thoughts Cara! Quantified Self actually doesn’t focus its energy just on numbers. We are a thriving community of people that use various means to better understand ourselves and live well lives. You are exactly right though, moderation is key. Future posts in my series will expand on this model and even offer alternatives to help people become more empowered. If you have thoughts or ideas on what might be useful feel free to email me (click on my name).

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