Category Archives: Social Networks

The Personal Analytics System

In a previous post, I discussed the explosion of data due to the growth in compute power coupled with the advent of Web 2.0 and social networks. However, this is not the only source of new and interesting data. Not only do people generate and contribute data via check-ins and tweets, they generate data by simply going about their everyday lives. Until recently, there was no way to capture that information easily. However, new gadgets have arrived that contribute to Big Data – however, this is data captured from human activity.

The ones that are out currently are the Nike+ Fuelband, the Jawbone Up, and the Fitibit Ultra. They are all essentially pedometers on steroids – a fun way to track your activity throughout the day and integrate it with a web dashboard and your social networks. These differ from the more serious Nike+ Sportswatch or the Garmin Forerunner that include GPS and are designed for serious athletes. What the more life-style oriented devices are intended for are a low-cost way to track daily activity throughout the day as well as sleep efficiency at night. The idea is that if you can collect data of your various activities throughout the day, you will have data points from which to make a better health plan or plan for a certain goal. They are also typically tied to other apps or websites where you can track food consumption in order to have a fuller picture of caloric gains and losses.

Personal Metrics Driven Management

While the intent is to improve health, this trend towards tracking gadgets for casual use is interesting since it generates data that pertains to a specific individual. You will now have a way of tracking over time very detailed information about your activities, habits, and sleep cycles. Successful companies have long used metrics to drive decisions and improve performance and efficiency. The tools are now starting to filter down to individual to take advantage of analytics to improve their lives.


While all three trackers have their metrics, the one that I have been testing is the Fitbit Ultra. I integrate it with MyFitnessPal since it has a superior food tracking database and a better mobile app. The product is easy enough to setup and it tracks things like steps taken during the day, floors climbed, and of course calories burned. It’s all interesting information that you can take to determine your current activity levels and give you insight on if you should make changes in order to meet your goals. There are some pre-set goals like achieving 10,000 steps in a week, but you can modify them to your liking.


The amount of data collected is astonishing but the real power is not in the point-in-time snapshot of activity but rather the accumulation of data over time to determine patterns and the integration with mobile and other apps (in particular, through the Fitbit API). You may see things like your activity drops significantly on days after you have low “sleep efficiency” (this is a metric that Fitbit uses to determine how much sleep you obtain during the night without waking up). Or you realize that you workout routine isn’t active enough to offset your time in front of a computer. Sadly, I determined that most of my day was sedentary since I spend most of my time at work behind a desk. The integration is also key since it increases the amount of quality data that you can collect, for example caloric intake in the case of MyFitnessPal. Integration with mobile apps also insures that you always have a mechanism for recording data that the Fitbit does not since most people carry their smart phone with them everywhere.

Integration is Key

All these website also include the requisite integration with social network like Facebook and Twitter. Although I believe that goals are best achieved when announced and through the support of friends, it does seem a bit creepy to be announcing when you go to bed and wake up and how many calories you consumed that day.

Corporations aren’t the only ones who can benefit from better data collection and analysis methods. Personal activity trackers now give the power of automated data collection and analysis to consumers. The websites even follow the Metrics Driven Management technique of a dashboard that displays all your pertinent metrics with the ability to drill-down for additional details. Data is now everywhere, even in your every day activities. Companies are now using data collection techniques and business intelligence technology to bring analysis to all aspects of our lives.

Pining for Pinterest

What does the Web’s hottest social network hold for data analytics?

Pinterest Icon Pinterest recently broke 11 million users this year. It was reportedly the fastest social network to reach 10 million unique users since its launch of closed beta in March 2010. However, that is somewhat in dispute, with many claiming that Formspring is still holds that title. Either way, there is no debate that Pinterest is growing at a phenomenal rate.

What is Pinterest anyway?

Since Pinterest headquarters is just down the Peninsula, I caught on to this site relatively early. However, a recent dinner with some out-of-town colleagues reminded me that not everyone obsessively follows startup news like I do.

Pinterest is a social network that links people together by their interests rather than their social circle. So unlike Facebook, which resolves around your friends, on Pinterest people express themselves and find friends through common interests. Another twist is that this is done via a metaphor of a pin board. Users “pin” photos that they find on site, from around the web, or uploaded directly to the site onto user-created “boards”. Users have boards to organize their pins into categories like “Travel” or “Humor”.

Since Pinterest is picture based, visual-type content show far better. Infographics, for example, are far more represented there than articles (some of which have no pictures to even pin). Brands are starting to take notice – Life magazine has a large following, posting mostly archived photos. Retailers are particularly strong here, since most of the items sold there are physical and therefore lends itself well to a pictorial presentation. In fact, Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and Linkedin. Combined.

So who is on Pinterest?

Modea, a digital advertising agency compiled some demographic information on Pinterest users and the results were quite interesting. On average, users spend 15.8 minutes “pinning” while Facebook users only spend 12.1 minutes liking things. Almost a third of Pinterest users have an annual household income of at least $100,000 and almost 70% are women with the majority aged 25-34. So young, upper-middle class and female – sounds like the demographic that advertisers will want to target. Of course, that is just the is the US. The demographics in the UK are decidedly different – 56% male, 29% in the highest income bracket and interested in venture capital (go figure).

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t a good mix of interests on Pinterest. The Board of Man which is a board focused on more “manly” interests has 220,000 followers. Even the US Army has gotten into with its own set of boards which is managed by their Chief of Public Affairs.

It’s all about the data

Pinning is fun and all but the real value is the information captured by all those young and wealthy consumers. It’s also capturing a demographic that isn’t as prevalent on most of the social networks (meaning mostly male and on the coasts). Users are specifically stating their interests – in particular things that they covet or plan to purchase. In addition, the content is persistent. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, your pins stay present on the board for you to easily eview again later (and don’t come back from the dead as people discovered during the Facebook switch to Timeline). Retailers are starting to take notice – creating their own pages and engaging with users with interesting content.

Pinterest is still in beta so it has some things that I think it needs to add to become more robust.

  • It really needs some sort of robust and standards based API (like REST). This will give websites the ability to better integrate with the social network. It also creates the capability for 3rd parties to start extracting some interesting data.
  • An easier way to find people. It’s all about the interests and not friends but still, it’s impossible to find someone if they aren’t already friends with you on Facebook.
  • Allow some pins to stand out in some way (either promoted or simply popular)
  • Work in some additional content other than photos. While photos really enrich the site, having the ability to have music or text add additional context to the photos would be helpful.

In particular, an API in conjunction with other APIs would have the ability for developers to create some interesting apps in combination with Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. The mash-up of the Facebook social graph with the Pinterest interest graph would be quite interesting. Since the information posted on Pinterest is public by default and generated in real-time, it would be a good indication of the zeitgeist in terms of interests, which would be a welcome addition to the topic trends already occurring on Twitter.