Monday, September 17, 2012

The Human Face of Big Data

There's a lot of excitement this morning about the Human Face of Big Data project. It's an attempt to use a smartphone data capture tool to "help measure the world." From September 25 to October 2 participants in what the organizers are calling a "crowdsourced media project" will provide data on their lives, families, sleep, trust, dating and dreams. The idea is to illustrate some of what we can learn about ourselves by aggregating data. There are a lot of practical uses for this kind of data aggregating; you can see some of them by clicking through a series of screens here. There are some cool videos here; you can download the app here if you decide to participate.

I've written before about self-quantifiers, though I'm thinking about participating in this one. The idea of finding a data doppelganger, someone who matches your data closely, which is one of the promised payoffs, is appealing. (Your identity, and your doppelganger's will not be revealed.) The production team was responsible for the Day in the Life series. Judging by the photos and video that's already been produced, the pictures will be beautiful. The screenshot above? It's a photograph showing pizza deliveries in Manhattan.

I have a couple of analysis questions: even with the hoped-for 10 million downloads, is that enough to represent a world with a population of more than seven billion people? And what about people who download the app but contribute only a few data points? There's also some reason to be cautious. According to news reports, the project will not collect identifying information, but the privacy policies have not yet been posted. What do you think? Are you participating? Share your experience in the comments.

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