Jun 14 2010

How Often Do You Mine Your Own Data?

Hundreds of companies collect and analyze detailed data about you, your social networks, and your preferences; Pollsters, grocery store member cards, health accounts, not to mention the droves of data we create and maintain about ourselves- facebook, gmail, twitter, etc. The companies that hold or have access to this data of ours spend millions on algorithms to process that information, observe trends in our behavior, target advertising, sell services, etc. As a recent USA Today article noted “Facebook knows your relationship is about to end.” Meanwhile Business Week (June ’10) gave us some insight in how the “big data analytics and aggregated personal information” industry discovers the “latent factors” in your life.

My dad recently went through the exercise of pulling all of his own health data and getting it into one place. A surprisingly complex undertaking. But once he did he was able to notice all sorts of trends in things previously un-noticed, such as fluctuations of his historic cholesterol levels over the last 50 years. It was an incredibly enlightening, helpful, and simple exercise. It just made me think, how often do we take the time to mine our own data? (or at least give it as much thought as do the marketing firms that want to reach us…).

There is some interesting conversation out there about both how to do this (e.g. check out the Quantified Self– or the QS, for those in the know) and whether it is a good or bad thing; The NY Times Magazine (April ’10) notes that “almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed.”

Do you measure any data sets about yourself, or take the time to look into the ones other companies maintain about you? If so, have you been better or worse off as a result?