What the Quantified Self and Big Data Mean for Social Media

Five years ago, the future of social media looked like a 3D rendering of avatars running virtual stores, meeting for virtual drinks, and even holding virtual business meetings. Second Life was going to be big. Starbucks opened virtual stores within the platform and companies were excited to be able to attend virtual meetings and save on travel expenses.

Just a few years later, we can see that isn’t the case. Maybe people wanted a simpler platform, or thought that business use cases within the platform were a stretch. What can we learn from past and current trends that will indicate what could happen to social media in the next five years? Lots. 

The "Quantified Self" movement
A movement to track data around multiple aspects of life, the Quantified Self (also called lifelogging, body hacking, and self-tracking among others) is a movement combining wearable technology and self-sensors to collect large amounts of data about ourselves. Sensors monitor heart rate, blood oxygen levels, air temperature, sleep patterns, motion in or out of rooms, and more.

Combine this information with other trackable data, such as your Outlook calendar, Pandora playlist, Amazon purchases, Dropbox uses, remotely controlled light bulb colors, Bluetooth controlled thermostats, debit purchases, mood trackers, tweets, and other devices and data sources, and you might begin to understand the enormity of data that a single person can generate.

Bring this data together with visualization tools and you can draw some amazing conclusions about how various factors correlate to one another and affect your psychology or physiology.

The Quantified Man
My friend and colleague Chris Dancy was interviewed and dubbed “The Quantified Man” by Wired Magazine, and was the trigger for my thoughts about how this movement might affect social media in the future. He wears up to a half-dozen sensors to monitor physiological factors, as well as using many of the environmental or social indicators above.


Quantified Self 1

Dancy automatically logs everything he does into a Google Calendar, providing him a timeline of accomplishments (via Wired)

He categorizes these into 10 categories, from health to entertainment, money to spiritual, and stores the data in Google Calendar, Evernote, or Excel. By incorporating analytics into his everyday life, he’s looking to improve relationships, health and work productivity among other areas. “If you can measure it, someone will,” he says, “and that somebody should be you.” (For more on Chris’ theories, check out his Slideshare or blog.)

 What’s your data worth, anyway?
A 28 year-old NYU Masters student logged all of his online data in a bit of an experiment to see how much his data is worth and what this all means. Federico Zannier logged emails, chat logs, location data, browser history, mouse movements, and screen shots with the aim of selling it on Kickstarter.

Quantified Self 2

(image via

He recorded webcam shots of himself every 30 seconds and logged every step he takes with GPS. Add the address of each webpage he visited over 50 days and it amounts to some 3 million lines of text, 21,124 webcam photos, and 19,920 screen shots according to Slate.

His Kickstarter campaign launched May 6, 2013, and ended 30 days later with a goal of raising $500. Backers paid $2 for a day’s worth of data – 70 websites, 500 screen shots, mouse cursor movements, GPS location, and an application log, or up to $200 for the entire set of data over two months -- around 7 GB of information.

He says, “I've data mined myself. I've violated my own privacy. Now I am selling it all. But how much am I worth?” He also notes that the US advertising industry is worth $30 billion, but he’s not seeing a penny. Could tracking himself and selling the data be worth anything? His Kickstarter campaign raised $2,733 in just 30 days. What could that be worth over months or years of accumulated social and quantified personal data? Is it worth anything to marketers or social networks?

In part 2 of this post, we’ll examine what all of these trends mean for the future of social media. Tour.png
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