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.