3 fascinating (and pretty) portraits of personal life through data

For most people, the only data they’ll ever really¬†see about themselves are the pretty charts generated about their finances or weight loss by applications like Mint or Jawbone. Some people, however, take their personal data a little more seriously, meticulously tracking their lives for years, and then showing the world what that looks like.
Three particularly insightful and well-done visualizations have popped over the past month, each taking a different approach to showing far more about their authors’ lives than most of us will ever be able to do for our own lives. Well, unless Facebook Timeline counts.

Stephen Wolfram: The Personal Analytics of My Life

Wolfram Research (maker of the Mathematica technical-computing software and the Wolfram|Alpha knowledge engine) Founder and CEO Stephen Wolfram released a trove of information related to his email, phone call and file-backup activity dating back decades. As you’ll soon notice, and as Wolfram explains, it’s so much more than a log when he did that: when visualized, you can determine how busy he was, what his sleep habits were and even how a book shaped up over time.

Nicholas Felton: The 2010/2011 Feltron Biennial Report

The comment above about Facebook was only partly tongue-in-cheek. That’s because Nicholas Felton actually inspired Facebook Timeline with his series of annual reports on his life — and now he works for the company as a product designer. His reports, which date back to 2005 and track both geographical, personal and interpersonal data, paint a picture of how someone moves throughout the world, what he did and with whom he chose to do it.

Aaron Parecki: Everywhere I’ve Been: Data Portraits Powered by 3.5 Years of Data and 2.5 Million GPS Points

No doubt done in part to show off the power of Geoloqi, the geo-location-data-for-mobile-apps company he co-founded, Aaron Parecki released a series of visualizations showing years’ worth of movement throughout various cities based on his phone’s GPS data. It’s a little creepy, yes, but also powerful for getting a sense of how people actually move around the places in which they live and visit. No wonder the Supreme Court just shot down warrantless GPS tracking of criminal suspects and the FBI had to turn off about 3,000 devices.

We’ll explore more interesting ways companies (and individuals) are using data at Structure:Data, March 21 and 22 in New York City.