The industry for personal informatics is certainly one to watch. There’s even been talk of a ‘movement’ and unsurprisingly, the iPhone has spawned a host of personal informatics applications. These applications are tantamount to an omphaloskeptics’s dream: pretty much any variable of life can be tracked to the most granular degree. Users of personal informatics sites can log everything from vegetables consumed and number of migraines suffered to variations in mood and their feelings about particular places.
Perhaps evidence that consumers are seeking certainty in these uncertain times, the sheer number and variety of personal informatics applications suggests not only a rising interest in self-analysis (or an increasingly narcissistic society) but a desire for more control over one’s personal life. For starters, these tools help you to learn from the past and plan for the future – if you ate too many calories this week, you know exactly how many to remove from your diet next week. However, much of the allure of personal informatics lies in the visualisations these sites can produce with the raw data. Sites such as your.flowingdata.com allow users to create custom visualisation pages for what they’re most interested in and encourage you to ‘play’ with the data.
In theory, brands could have an enormous pool of data at their disposal should these tools become mainstream enough to attract sufficient users. While many personal data tracking accounts monitor health and leisure habits, many others track brand usage, product usage and attitudes towards brands. Personal informatics could help brands spot emerging competitors faster and track whims and fads with more agility than conventional methods. However, criticism of social networking sites that have deployed their members’ data for commercial gain mean that brands need to tread carefully: an assumption that you own the data simply because it is publicly available is imprudent.
On the other hand, brands are beginning to wake up to the potential of incorporating personal informatics into their business propositions – most notably Nike, through its joint venture with Apple and a handful of health clubs to produce the Nike + iPod package. It’ll be interesting to see how others follow suit.