Wolfram | Alpha Personal Analytics. Quantified-self on demand

Wolfram | Alpha posted about a self-analysis tool, the Personal Analytics for Facebook. All you need to do is go to their site and register with Wolfram | Alpha and connect it to your Facebook ID (giving them permission to read your friend lists) and then they’ll run all sorts of analytics on your social graph. Just type “facebook report” on wolframalpha.com to get started.

The graph above shows your Facebook friends on hover so you can figure out all the outliers and what connects them to the others. The chart below shows you how you access Facebook. There’s another, not pictured, that will show you which apps you use and when.

All in all it’s a beautiful report and a clever way towards user acquisition. It reminds me of Nicholas Felton’s beautiful Year in Review reports. Mr. Felton, who now works at, ironically, Facebook.

Location Traces as Art

Determined to teach others how much data telecom providers not only harness but retain, German Green Party politician, Malte Spitz, sued his cell phone service provider, Deutsche Telecom, for his location data. What he received was raw data of his location, signal strength, and when he was on the phone.  Working with the German newspaper Zeit, he then published this data spanning the six months between August 2009 and February 2010 and put it up on Zeit Online into an interactive map.

Publishing your movements has obvious privacy implications and that is precisely the point that Mr. Spitz is trying to make. Over 35,000 location coordinates were taken but even the New York Times article reporting on this project revealed that these were only a subset of all the data that could be taken. Each of the Spitz datapoints were taken when he (or his email client) was checking email via the Deutsche Telecom servers. Yet, even with this low-fidelity view, it’s easy to draw lines between the points and the sample set is large enough that it’s fairly easy to work out where Mr. Spitz lives, works, and other aspects of his weekly routine. The calendar bar on the site also lets you zoom in on where he spent Christmas.

My dopplr raumzeitgeist for 2011

Put another way though, having access to a private dashboard where I could review where I’ve been would certainly be helpful for my expense reports and letting me selectively publish my data would certainly save having to manually check -in and create visualizations as I did with FourSquare or the raumzeitgeist report provided by  dopplr showing your past trips (above).

TED just published a fascinating talk (Birth of a Word) by MIT researcher Deb Roy who used location traces at a micro-level (below) to study how his son (who was filmed and tracked for the 24 hours a day for the first two years of his life) picked up language. While the visualization was used to assist in research, it also wowed the audience at TED as a breath-taking visualization as well.

Does location data represent a new form of art?

Japanese Train Infographics

Japanese trains are the paragon of efficiency. During peak rush hour, 11-car commuter trains rumble in and out of stations at 90-second intervals. There is no room for error. Everyone needs to know where to go.

So, when the trains were fitted with interactive displays, on the inside, over each doorway, information designers set to work jamming them with useful information for their captive audience.

Yamanote Line Infographic

In the graphic above, which switches between Japanese and English, you see the following pieces of information:

  1. Destination of train and next stop.
  2. Car number.
  3. Location of stairs, escalators, and elevators in relation to your car and which exit they lead to.
  4. Which side doors will open at the next station (important if you need to start squeezing your way through the crowd to get out).
  5. Name of other train lines served by the next station.

That’s a lot of information to absorb. The efficiency of information design has caught the eye of a blogger at Sun as well. A couple more examples below.

Showing destination and car number.

Showing destination and minutes to next station

Showing next station and minutes to each station on the line.

Showing which side doors open at the next station.