On Collecting and Visualizing Personal Data Online

When going through my “to be read later” list recently, I came upon designer Nicholas Felton’s 2008 Annual Report, courtesy of Swiss Miss:


The Report is a beautiful visualization of a year of living; it chronicles everything the author saw and ate, everywhere he traveled, and more. Some of my favorites are a histogram of miles walked per day, and the map/timeline of significant events during the year. This project, in its fourth year, has taken personal data logging to a level I had never before even considered. Imagine Last.fm applied to everything.

Turns out Mr. Felton has a side project, Daytum, which is, in its own words,

a home for collecting and communicating your daily data. Begin tracking anything you can count and display the results immediately.

Example user page here. Unfortunately, Daytum is still in private beta so while I patiently await my invitation, all I can do is comment on the publicly visible part of it. Again, it’s in private beta so I assume most of my concerns will be addressed in due time but a few first thoughts:

  • The design of the user page is pretty good, but there isn’t yet any customizability as far as I can tell (other than picking a color). I’m pretty picky with my information graphics, so I’d like as much control as possible with the look and feel of the page.
  • I noticed that the graphs are being generated dynamically using the Google Chart API. I had never seen this before, but it sure is an easy way to get a quick graphic on a site. I’ll have to remember it…
  • Naturally the key to this site is for the users to be continuously keeping their data updated. If you don’t update your blog for a week or two, your readers may be sad but you can pretty much pick up right where you left off. If you neglect to add your last three meals to your Daytum page, the dataset will be forever tainted. Last.fm integration helps for music data, but as far as I know there aren’t any web services that automatically Twitter how many hours you’ve slept (although that gives me an idea…)
  • I don’t know if the logged-in user view allows you to see your raw data (I assume so, at least in some form) but it would be cool to be able to export it if you want to be able to do more advanced visualization/analysis. But maybe that’s just me.

This simple idea is pretty interesting, and it could be the next logical progression after a year where microblogging goes mainstream and everyone knows who Nate Silver is. And I’ll conclude by coining a term for this trend: Factoblogging. You heard it here first.