Sharing Personal Data to Push Social Data Analysis

November 19, 2007  |  Social Data Analysis

I'm staying in a hostel here in Madrid and am currently in the "Internet Room." I'm on my laptop, but there are six desktop computers in front of me, all of which are occupied. Three of the six people have Facebook open plus myself. It's come to the point that Facebook has so many ways to share information, that almost everyone can find some use for it. Is there some way to share data in some similar social way?

I know there's some data blogging available and a few social data sites, but they don't have the same feel as Facebook. I think the main reason people like Facebook (other than an entertaining way to waste a few hours) is because they personally relate to the information displayed and there's some kind of connection between friends and strangers.

Something Social Data Analysis Needs

For social data analysis to work, designers will have to take a few pointers from the popular social network. The current approach seems to be throw as many data sets at the user and hope that something sticks. It doesn't seem to be working. It's been written in some papers that people are greater intrigued when there's a personal connection (Jeffrey Heer's paper is the first that comes to mind right now...Socializing Visualization...I think that's it). I can see how data can be completely disconnected from the user if s/he hasn't actually collected it or is directly related to someone s/he knows. I, myself, feel that disconnection all the time. It always take some effort (or a good shove) to get into it.

Personalizing Data

It's really easy to say, "Oh, improve social data analysis results just by making the data more personal." In practice, it's hard. In my efforts to collect data about myself, I fell pretty short. I always forgot to record and would lose numbers; things just seemed to always get in the way, and that was with me -- someone who actually cared.

However, with the rise in mobile technology (who wants to buy me an iPhone?) and sites like Twitter, there seems to be some light. People are posting extremely frequently on whatever is going on at the time, what they're feeling, thinking, etc. I can imagine some kind of data collection or recording with a Twitter feel to it.

The forever continuing project in the UK, Mass Observation, gives me some hope. If people are willing to write about daily life in Britain or count odd things like the number of people who wear hats, then clearly there has to be a small, medium, or large group of people who could do something special with data sharing. It could be a neighborhood, a group of friends, a family, a class, or a university. There's a niche for everything.

I'm not sure what avenue would allow and inspire people to engage in that type of data sharing. Is it something like Twitter, Facebook, some combination of the two, or something that hasn't been created yet? Nobody knows for sure yet.

However, once that outlet for personal data sharing becomes available, I think social data analysis will develop into something really successful. People will be analyzing data that they care about. Until then, it looks like real, in-depth results won't result unless a group of statistically-minded individuals are involved, because nobody else cares.

1 Comment

  • formats/standards. i think open formats are a big impediment to really sharing. anyone who has assembled a data set from a group of disparate sources knows that data prep is 95% of the job.

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