What we read this week (26 Apr)

How the internet is trying to make a living, the bizarre notion that life on Earth might predate Earth itself, “demetricating” Facebook, drawing conclusions about the trajectory of human life from Facebook data, and what happens when Google knows more about what your company’s up to than you do.

Quote of the week

In the startup world, you work very hard to make other people rich. Other people.

Bruce Sterling

Articles of the week

What we read this week (15 Feb)

Reads this week: Kyle Studstill on working towards “the next big culture,” sequencing human genomes in bulk, Craig Mod on the growing pains of digital publishing, flat design versus realism in interface design, and the security risks of data-driven education.

Quote of the week

With equipment like this in the home of the future we may not have to go to work, the work would come to us.

Walter Cronkite, 1967

Articles of the week

What we read this week (5 Oct)

In this week’s reads: music that “thinks for itself,” economics and video games, the somewhat disturbing use of data in presidential campaigning, digitizing a personal library, and time-creation strategies.

Quotes of the week

Kill Your Business Model Before It Kills You

Ron Ashkenas

Here’s the thing: Glass doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of living up to its futuristic hype, but I understand why so many people want to believe it might. Somewhere deep down, you want to be a cyborg. We all do. In fact, most of us already are.

Ryan Block

Articles of the week

  • Wired UK: Brian Eno on music that thinks for itself
    An interview detailing the ideas behind a recent generative music project by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, called Scape. It’s an app-album designed to never sound the same twice, and is part of a growing trend in interactive music apps.
  • Washington Post: The economics of video games
    A fascinating tale about the world of economics inside a game. The fact that two game companies hired full-fledged economist to help them build better games provides a clue as to the complexity of those game worlds and what could be learned from them.
  • FT: Inside Obama’s HQ
    FT provides an in-depth look into the Obama campaign’s use of data. It’s impressive and scary at the same time. Definitely worth a read even if it’s unlikely that those kind of mechanics will be ever applicable outside of the US. Nevertheless, all of this will dominate social media / big data decks for the next two years.
  • The Literary Platform: Building a digital library
    Rachel Coldicutt explains in great detail how she and her partner performed the painstaking, time-consuming task of digitizing the large collection of books they have at home, and what they learned in the process.
  • Caterina Fake: How to Create Time
    The serial entrepreneur outlines briefly how she makes more time for herself so that she can use her days less frantically and more productively. One interesting strategy of hers: sleeping in two shifts. (Also read the NYT article on the same topic.)

What we read this week (3 Aug)

In this week’s reads: what factors determine the success of wearable technologies, proposed legislation that could help repair the patent system, the success of the New York Times’ subscription strategy, geographical discrimination on the internet, and college degree programs steered by big data.

Quotes of the week

In the US it is rightly illegal to refuse service on the basis of race or gender. It is time that we add geography to this for Internet based services.

Albert Wenger

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

Carl Sagan

Articles of the week

  • Artefact: Is Technology Ready-to-Wear?
    Wearable technology is a strong trend these days. But how does technology best integrate with our clothes? “Just put an Arduino on it!” is an old joke among those in the Internet of Things industry. Not so, says Artefact, and gives an overview of the most important factors for a successful wearable technology product.
  • EFF: Can You Believe It? Legislation that Would Actually Help Fix the Patent System
    Finally. The SHIELD Act, proposed by a democratic and a republican representative is aiming to regulate the way how patent trolls can attack innovators. It’s about time. Read this write up from the EFF on the matter.
  • New York Magazine: The New York Times Is Now Supported by Readers, Not Advertisers
    A historical moment: The New York Times now earns more from readers than through advertising. And it’s not just that ad revenues are down. No, readership, and the readers’ willingness to pay for access and content, is up. This might shake up the news industry.
  • Albert Wenger: The Internet, Tape Delay, Proxies and Civil Disobedience
    Discussing the lack of live streams of the Olympic Games and the restrictions of the corresponding broadcasts, VC and Union Square partner Albert Wenger proposes a new right for the citizens of the internet: In the US it’s illegal to refuse service on the basis of race or gender. Let’s add geography for internet-based services to that list.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education: College Degrees, Designed by the Numbers
    This article takes a long and detailed look at how some American universities are using big data in an attempt to improve their systems. The projects described are interesting, but frightening – the approaches seek to improve pass rates, but should students really be directed towards courses where they’ll earn better grades? And should this be how the school’s success is measured?

What we read this week (10 Feb)

A week that prominently featured outcry over how web services handle our data, a Q&A with Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley and some thoughts on the Death of the Cyberflâneur.

The reason the Web took off is not because it was a magic idea, but because I persuaded everyone to use HTML and HTTP.

Tim Berners-Lee about the social process of trying to get everyone to use the same standards

As the room lit up with projections of Call of Duty footage, Nyan Cat animations and sample-heavy bass, I couldn’t stop thinking that this show was among the signs that “Internet culture” is now just culture.

Anthony Volodkin about a recent Skrillex show

  • RWW: Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley on What He’s Learning From Twitter and What’s Next
    Dennis Crowley speaks about the future of Foursquare and how his service will become more mainstream.
  • The Next Web: Path’s Address Book Mistake Shows an Apple Problem Path has been caught uploading their users’ entire address books to their servers as soon as one installs their app on an iOS device. The outcry was and is big. Rightfully so. Still, there is a larger issue to be discussed here. It’s how we started accepting privacy-related questions in a way that Facebook, Apple and Google want us to see them. Time to demand from the services we use to be transparent upfront about how they intend to use our data.
  • Pinterest is quietly generating revenue by modifying user submitted pins
    Pinterest, while officially still in beta, sees tremendous growth. Now they are even started earning money, which is not objectionable. The way they chose to start monetizing is quite questionable, though: They alter user submitted links to include referral codes, thus collecting affiliate kickbacks – without making that obvious to their users.
  • NYTimes: The Death of the Cyberflâneur
    We share Evgeny Morozov’s opinion on Facebook’s “frictionless sharing.” But services like Tumblr and Twitter make us think that the cyberflâneur is alive and well.
  • Slate: How the hot ad agency fell from grace.
    “I come to bury Crispin, not to praise it.” Slate’s Seth Stevenson, never a fan of the ad-world-darling Crisipin Porter & Bogusky, rips them apart for their work on VW and Burger King, which have dropped CPB in 2010 and 2011.

What we read this week (3 Feb)

A taste of this week’s reading: Quora tackles the facts and figures in Facebook’s IPO application, the New York Times mulls over the growing pains in cyborg life, and the state of the future.

Quotes of the week

Maybe our desire to digitize and archive every little thing is not proof of a fear of forgetting. It’s a manifestation of our urge to remember how to remember.

Carina Chocano

What if you didn’t buy books so much as join them?

Megan Garber

Articles of the week

  • Quora: What are the most notable aspects of Facebook’s S-1?
    The Quora community expounds on Facebook’s IPO, providing a nice mix of editorial and factual content. The answers are dotted with interesting tidbits from the company’s IPO registration statement (S-1). The word ‘control’, for instance, is mentioned 131 times in the document, compared to 35 mentions of ‘privacy’.
  • Dan Pink: The Flip Manifesto
    Dan Pink offers 16 pieces of business advice that “[flip] conventional wisdom.” His points include “for Godsakes, talk like a human being” and “take as much vacation as you want.” He introduces his thinking with a case study of one of our best-known contemporary entrepreneurs: Bob the Builder. If you’re not feeling quite up to reading the whole thing, watch Dan’s 10-minute animated talk on motivation at the RSA.
  • Parker Higgins: Twitter’s best-in-class censorship reveals weaknesses in centralized corporate communication channels
    Our friend Parker Higgins, who recently moved to San Francisco to work for the EFF, with an on-point assertion about the implications of Twitter’s censorship acknowledgment.
  • New York Times: The Dilemma of Being a Cyborg
    Carina Chocano discusses what we experience when we lose our data, or “the constantly generated, centrally stored evidence of our existence.” A perceptive take on the interplay between human life and technology.
  • Imperica: The future of the future
    Leila Johnston and Chris Heathcote discuss the future of… the future, and of advertising. As our notion of the future has become very blurry compared to the 50s, their grasp of the current state of futurism is a must-read. Along the way we learn that advertising can stay relevant, particularly if it fulfills a need beyond just advertising a product.

I track, therefore I am

From data to better living. This is the first article in our series on the Quantified Self.

This is the first article in our series on the Quantified Self.

It’s all about data

Data is at the core our lives in the information age. It’s one of the essential ingredients to how we work, make decisions, communicate and much more in the 21st century. Data is the most raw and abstract form of information, that has the power to change anything. From the decision of what to wear today by checking the weather forecast to buying or not buying stocks based on company metrics to whether to wage war or not according to data collected by an intelligence agency. That’s why we as a society have become obsessed with data. From the political campaign that lives and dies by the latest polling data to the sports fan who pores over statistics, we just can’t get enough. Data helps to empower us and and to make us capable of making better-informed decisions. It can be a guide and a backup. That’s why we’re collecting more data then ever.

Tracking data

Collecting data used to be tough. Data can only be used if it’s captured properly, and that used to be a very manual process. Basically, someone had to check the data source and write the values down. Data reveals most insights if tracked over time. The difference between read-outs from different points of time shows us what changes. And change is usually what we’re most interested in.

Over the last decades with the rise of digital technology and networks, the possibilities to automatically capture, store and process data have increased enormously. For examples, where nurses used to need to measure their patients’ data points like heart rate and temperature manually, they now have machines capture these vitals constantly and inform them about changes within milliseconds. What began in medicine, science and big industries is now trickling down into our daily lives. The technology needed to capture and track data sources automatically is becoming smaller and more connected. We now have the same kind of sensors that trigger airbags in cars – motion sensors – in our phones. Our gadgets are becoming big data gathering machines, lowering the effort to capture data considerably. All of a sudden, we are able to capture more personal data like never before.

Know thyself via data

Now, that we’re able to capture and track tons of personal data with ease, we’re finally able to make much better informed decisions about our personal lives. Because as it turns out, we’re actually quite bad at remembering and assessing our daily behaviors. How much coffee did I have last week? How long have I been in a foul mood already? How much did we spend on snacks? Our memory is terrible for questions like these. That’s were actual data helps us. If we discover that we have 5 cups a day on average, we can decide to go easy on the coffee.

One of the core concepts for this is called feedback loops. It’s what turns hybrid drivers into hypermilers because they see their gas consumption in real time. Displayed data about about our behavior gives us the opportunity to adapt our behavior.

But not only can we make better decision. By gathering all kinds of data, we can relate them to each other and create new insights. For example, we can discover that our mood changes when we had more than 4 cups of coffee, or that our spendings on snacks go up when we had less than six hours of sleep. With personal data, we can learn much more about how our bodies and our behaviors actually work. And then we can make better decisions to improve our lives.

This is what a rapidly growing group of people is fascinated by. They call it ‘The Quantified Self’.

The Quantified Self movement

In 2008, Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf noticed that more and more people around them were starting to track all kinds of data about their lives. Some of them would capture more than 40 data points from their personal life on a daily basis. So they started the first Quantified Self group in Kelly’s house. Today, there are 44 official QS groups around the planet. In May 2011, the first QS conference was held in Mountain View, California. The second conference will be held in Amsterdam this weekend.

These are the pioneers of self-tracking. They go to enormous lengths to capture their data. Some of them walk around with sensors attached to their bodies. Others fill in endless spreadsheets each day. But what may seem like obsessive acts of data nerdism to us is just preparing the way for Quantified Self to become mainstream. And this is happening rapidly.

A few years ago, to understand your sleep patterns, you would have to check yourself into a sleep clinic and get attached to an array of machines. Today, you can buy a 100 Euro device that has the size of a small alarm clock and sits on your night desk. While you sleep, you strap a small band over your head that tracks your sleep patterns. That’s it. A lot more devices for all kinds of daily activities are released these days and are advancing the Quantified Self movement to the general public. The success of the likes of Nike+ and Fitbit shows the direction we’re heading.

From data to better living

With more devices and apps being released, the capturing of personal data turns from a manual, mundane task into an unobtrusive, mostly automatic process. But collecting the data isn’t enough. To understand the long columns of numbers and make sense of all the data, we must analyze it. And that’s what the focus of the Quantified Self movement is turning to.

Creating insight from data

There are two main approaches to create insights out of data. The first one is about visualization, and it’s much broader than just in Quantified Self. We’re all looking for better ways to create meaning out of the mass of data we produce. Visualization is one of the tools used to tackle this. Infographics and all kinds of colorful diagrams are all over the media. And for good reason: A good visualization helps us comprehend the essence of massive amounts of data at a glance. It highlights the most interesting points and provides context for interpretation.

Developing visual tools to deliver insights based on the data they track is one of the big challenges for the companies dabbling in the Quantified Self, and the QS movement at large. This will be a key driver for people to adopt QS.

The other approach is sharing data. The social web has made it much easier to share anything with family, peers and complete strangers. The Quantified Self movement is big on sharing, as many insights can only be discovered through aggregated or shared data: Is my sleeping pattern normal for a person with my lifestyle? How much are others spending on groceries per month? Sharing data with others helps us to put ourselves and our behaviors into the context.

Sharing is a powerful way to behavior change: We’re much more willing to follow up on our decisions to change something if we have shared our intentions with others. We hold ourselves accountable with the help of our data.

Business opportunities

For companies that offer devices and apps to gather data, there is huge opportunity in providing their customers ways to connect data and provide extra value around it. Obviously, there are very relevant privacy implications that companies in this field need to be aware of when dealing with that kind of personal data. We think that finding the right balance between several aspects of the QS experience is what will determine which companies will lead the field. More concretely, it’s about finding the sweet spot between ease-of-use, unobtrusive data collection, insightful formatting of tracked data, and hosting a lively community that provides support and helps deal with the emotional side of things. Whoever nails all these points will have the chance to build trusted relationships with their customers.

Stay with us while we dive deeper into this movement that has great potential to make our lives better through fascinating technology and inspiring ideas.

The Quantified Self

A series of articles to give you an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of the Quantified Self and how we think this trend will change work, technology and society.

At the heart of Third Wave is a fascination for new developments in technology and how they are shaping society and human behaviors.

The social web is such a development that we got involved in early on as bloggers and community organizers. It has been the focus of our individual work for the last years as strategists and continues to be a major part of what we do at Third Wave.

Nevertheless, we want to keep our eyes and minds open for the next developments on that scale and to continually explore new fields. That’s why we looked at ‘networked cities’ and started Cognitive Cities. We think that technology will have a significant impact on how we live in cities and we will continue to contribute to this topic as much as we can.

Recently, we’ve been fascinated by a movement that has been popping up all over our radar. Like the social web and networked cities, we think it will be a major movement throughout the next years and will change our everyday behavior significantly. It’s mostly referred to as the Quantified Self.

Within the next couple of weeks, we will bring you a series of articles to give you an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of this trend and how we think this will change work, technology and society. As always: feedback, corrections and additional points are always very welcome.


#1 I track, therefore I am
#2 The Quantified Self in Health and Lifestyle
#3 The Quantified Self Data & Privacy
#4 Interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur: Die Vermessung des Selbst
#5 How the Quantified Self might change our lives. A 2020 scenario.
#6 Article on Golem.de: Ich tracke, also bin ich
#7 Article on Golem.de: Wem gehört unser vermessenes Leben?
#8 Quantified Self in practice: The Eatery
#9 Event: Digitale Selbstvermessung – Leben nach Maß?
#10 An update on the Quantified Self
To be continued.

Read all our posts related to the Quantified Self.