On of the most well known QS devices is the Withings WiFi body scale. Automatically transmitting weight to a computer or mobile phone, the scale is a good example of a solid, mainstream approach to self-tracking. But I was curious recently to see how many people are taking advantage of the ability to publicly tweet their body weight. The number is not very large; normally just a few every hour, a few hundred in total, assuming most people measure their weight once per day. Certainly a small fraction of Withings users. English tweets dominate, but German and Japanese tweets are also common.
QS friends know that I’ve been ranting lately against the notion that the only reason people will do anything is because they want to improve their visibility in a social network. The viral spread of Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare have convinced some otherwise smart people I know that nobody will do anything that is not “social.”
This means that one of the most important features of a wireless scale is easy, automatic public tweeting of your weight. It makes a good story, but as far as I can tell it is not very real, even among early adopters. I bother to point this out because the focus on public exposure of personal data obscures some of the reasons people actually do want to track themselves using convenient tools that stream data to computers and phones. They want this information not to share publicly, but for themselves, and perhaps for a small number of others who comprise their private network of close support.
Personal data has tremendous personal value. In aggregate, and anonymized, it is important for science and public health. But the theory that personal data, outside of sports and gaming, is a type of social currency is still waiting for some evidence to back it up.