You in Data

Yesterday I signed up to Daytum, a web service that lets you record data about your life. After admiring their simple and logical data recording method, I began wondering what drives people to disseminate their life in data and whether "Personal Intelligence" had anything to teach the "Business Intelligence" world. Looking through the public profiles people are tracking everything from exercise regimes to irrational fears, from fuel consumption to religious activity. It seems to me that there are three main groups of users:

  1. The efficiency drivers: those who track everything to give an objective view of where they can save money and time
  2. The motivational diarists: those who record things like dietary intake and gym routines to chart their achievements and, I suspect, act as a record of shame when things go wrong.
  3. The curious masses: those who enjoy visualizations of the number of cups of tea they've consumed this month or how many hours a year they spend on the toilet.

Data analysis and visualization in the business world has always had a strong arm in efficiency drives, so it is only natural that our first group have taken to do the same with their own finances. It can be quite revealing to find that your monthly coffee expenditure could pay for a weekend break for two.

However, it is the second cohort that interests me most. It is an old mantra that what doesn't get measured doesn't get done, but measures and targets handed down by management often produce the opposite of the desired effect. Perhaps empowering people with tools to track and visualize their own productivity could increase motivation, without the feeling that Big Brother is watching your every move. Or then perhaps it would just be another distraction.

As data recording becomes quicker and data visualization becomes easier, those who embrace personal data analysis may find a personal competitive advantage just as businesses do everyday. Whether businesses can harness this effectively to motivate their employees remains to be seen.