Tag Archives: Facebook

Shawn Dimantha: My Face, My Health

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Shawn Dimantha is always looking for easier ways to track his health. He uses a variety of self-tracking tools, but a few months ago he became interested in exploring what he could do given his engineering and health IT background. He was inspired by immersion, an MIT-developed email analysis tool, which helped him understand who he was communicating with, and by Wolfram Alpha’s Facebook analysis tool. Focusing on Facebook and the wealth of image-based data in his profile he asked himself if images could be a window into his health. After reading a research paper on the use of images to predict body mass index he decided to see what he could learn my implementing a similar procedure on his own images.

What Did Shawn Do?

I used photos from my Facebook account to track my health, the reason I did this because I wanted to see how a simple heuristic I used for tracking my health daily could be implemented in the online world given the huge amount of photos that are and have been shared on a daily basis. I notice when I gain or lose weight, am stressed or relaxed from my seeing my face in my mirror. I was partly inspired by the self-photo collages presented on YouTube.

How Did He Do it?

I selected photos of my face from my Facebook account, cropped out my face and used some software and manual tagging to measure the ratio of different fiducial points on my face (eye-eye length, and cheek to cheek length) over time to help serve as a proxy for my health.

What Did He Learn

Facial image data needs to be cleaned and carefully selected. Face shapes are unique and need to be treated as such. Data that is not present is often more telling than what is present. Life events effect my weight and should be put into context; however causation is harder to determine than correlation. By being more conscious of my score and I can change my behavior before things get off track.

Right now I’m turning this into a product at Enfluence.io where I’m focused on using it to help with preventive health.

Tools

Facebook (my own images)
Python / OpenCV

Slides from Shawn’s talk are available here.

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Living Without Numbers

Here at Quantified Self we talk about living with numbers. Look a few inches above these words and it’s right there in our four-word tagline: self knowledge through numbers. Information, increasingly numerical information, is becoming a driving force in the world. We’re surrounded by numerical representations of ourselves in almost all aspects of our lives. Probably no more so than in our digital interactions with each other.

Those meaningful and mundane comments, retweets, posts, likes, scores, friends, and followers all have raw or algorithmically defined numerical value. What you think of those value isn’t as necessary as understanding that a value exists. This is the place where you would probably expect me to go on  long diatribe about the nature of scoring our social lives, but I’ll leave that for others to handle. It’s a hot topic and I’m sure you’ll able to find well-written arguments with a quick google search. Instead I want to use this space to show you something interesting and thought provoking.

Facebook Demetricator

Ben Grosser is an artist and a composer, and is currently completing an MFA in New Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s also the creator of a nifty little piece of software called Facebook Demetricator. Simply put, the Facebook Demetricator is a  browser extension that hides the numerous instances of social metrics that live in the Facebook interaction experience:

The Facebook interface is filled with numbers. These numbers, or metrics, measure and present our social value and activity, enumerating friends, likes, comments, and more. Facebook Demetricator is a web browser addon that hides these metrics. No longer is the focus on how many friends you have or on how much they like your status, but on who they are and what they said. Friend counts disappear. ’16 people like this’ becomes ‘people like this’. Through changes like these, Demetricator invites Facebook’s users to try the system without the numbers, to see how their experience is changed by their absence.

How does it work? Take a close look at the short gif below or watch this short explanatory video.

Facebook Demetricator Prototype Removing Metrics on the Friends Page

Ben did a great interview with Matthew Fuller that I highly suggest you read if you’re interested in learning more him and the reasoning behind this project. I preparation for this short post I emailed Ben and asked him his thoughts on how this fits into the broader conversation around Quantified Self:

I suppose a key difference between the metrics on Facebook and a more typical QS approach is that in QS one has substantial control over what they collect and how they interpret it.  On Facebook, the what, how, and even in some cases, the why is largely left to the system to manage.  In response, Demetricator removes the numbers and thus makes the familiar unfamiliar, focusing us on the ways those numbers are functioning as drivers of interaction. It’s not that the numbers themselves are bad, but they’re certainly worth questioning—especially when their accumulation and presentation are handled by others.

I’ve leave you with a few thoughts I’ve had on this as I’ve been contemplating this work and Ben’s response.

Numbers are powerful. Ben mentions in his announcement and again in the interview that one of reasons for creating this software was to combat the “(capitalism-inspired) innate desire for more.” Numbers have this seemingly magical evolutionary trait in that they seek to increase and we as creators and consumers of those numbers tend to oblige (I understand this isn’t true for all numbers). This isn’t a judgement statement, just something we need to be aware of as we build and interact with social and behavioral systems that are becoming increasingly quantifiable.

Mind the data. There are these great little inlaid signs in the London Underground that remind passengers to “mind the gap.” It serves as a simple warning to make people aware of the distance between the train and the platform. Being mindful or ourselves through the lens of the data we produce and use has been a recurring theme lately for some of us in the QS community. So much so that we opened up the QS Conference with a wonderful presentation by Nancy Dougherty on Mindfulness in QS. With the increasing scorification of our social interactions in various online mediums the Facebook Demetricator reminds us to be mindful of the role numbers play in our lives and how we choose to use them.

What do you think? Take a look at Ben’s project and if you use it let us know your thoughts. I’ve created a post on the Quantified Self Forum for discussion, but feel free to comment here as well.

Thanks for Ben Grosser and Alex Carmichael for providing feedback on this post. Also thanks to everyone (especially @xarodai) who uses the #quantifiedself hashtag on Twitter. Without you this unique tool would have never surfaced for me. 

 

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7 Secrets to Maximize Social Media with Minimal Time

Social media is an addictive time suck. We know that, but we still spend almost a quarter of our time on social networking sites. Can this be optimized? Can we get most of the benefits of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn without such a time cost?
People have increasingly been asking me these questions, so I decided to put together a list of my top secrets to social media savvy.
If you have a message to spread about your project and you want to reach a big audience without twittering yourself into a stupor, this list is for you. #7 is the most important one, so make sure to read all the way to the end.

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Would You Track Your Health on Facebook?

I was curious to see if I was the only one crazy enough to share my health data publicly, so last week I posted two questions as my Facebook status. “Would you track your health on Facebook (weight, calories, sleep, exercise) for all your friends to see?”, followed by “What if it was completely private for only you to see?”

The answers I got surprised me. I didn’t expect 26 people to reply. I didn’t expect such detailed opinions. I didn’t expect the answer to be a resounding, 70% yes.

Facebook poll 1.png

Let me clarify that these are not QS enthusiasts. I asked all my Facebook friends because I think they represent the general Facebook population – only two dedicated self-trackers replied. It got even more interesting when I broke down the responses down by gender and privacy options.

facebook poll 2.png

Now I need to qualify this a bit. I know 26 responses doesn’t represent a statistically significant sample size by any means. Also, there was an unequal number of women (16) and men (10). Still, it’s an interesting discussion starter. It makes me want to know if there really is a gender difference. Are women more reluctant to share tracking information publicly? And more broadly, is there a gender bias in the act of tracking itself? Do women track themselves more or less than men do? Do they track different things?

Another surprise was the range and passion of replies, from “no way!’ to “I would love that!”, and everywhere in between. Here are some of the comments I found most interesting, in no particular order.

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“I would keep stuff like basic fitness info on something like facebook.  I wouldn’t trust medical info here.”

“Public daily measurement is an interesting way to keep you on your diet/exercise plan/meditation schedule, but most people probably want to share the social/personal significance of the data rather than the data itself. e.g. “Mike lost 2 lbs this week! Now he’s 10% of the way to his goal!” rather than daily weight variation.”

“don’t mind anyone seeing this info …it’s just the job of collecting it”

“On one hand, I don’t think my “friends” care what I weigh, etc., though I don’t mind sharing this info with them. In fact, I’d expect some might find this level of personal disclosure somewhat creepy and odd. Developing flexible privacy and data-sharing controls for both the information sharer and recipient will be important.

On the other hand, I’d like to make this info available to researchers and those developing applications for new forms of health monitoring systems. Facebook seems to have emerged as the current leading platform for social networking. It provides a strong platform for application developers to build tools for new types of interaction and collaboration. So, I hope that my participation on the cutting edge of health information monitoring will lead to beneficial new forms of medical practice.

I think social networking enables a new form of participatory science, which is more than passive observation. It allows for real-time feedback, social reinforcement for participants from trusted sources, and dynamically configurable experiments, which can lead to real-world outcomes.”

“I don’t think I would be comfortable doing this. I don’t trust that anything you put on facebook is completely private. I do like the idea though.”

“For what reason exactly? In the interest of being proactive about my health? Would there be a benefit to allowing people to see this info?”

“the caloric intake measure is hard for me…I’m more of a guestimator with food.  I’m not sure I’d like everyone to see my weight on here either.  Perhaps good motivation, but still.   I’d rather have a smaller community know about that (I’m not really a Biggest Loser reality show kind of person).”

“yes — would love to be able to add categories of things to track
and add and remove permissions easily — would rather share a report
than the data”


“to me it’s a simple layer of accountability, like going to the gym with a buddy versus going by yourself. Visibility=incentive. Imagine how many pushups I would do if I did…like at Cross Country practice – team pushing me, not just me+1, 2

here is where economies of scale, intertwining of cyborg lifestyle and quantity+content of connections have perfect opp to mashup”

“Only if I could lie.”

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What did I learn from this exercise? The biggest issues raised were privacy and meaning. People wanted to decide WHO got to see which parts of their data. They also wanted to explore WHY they should track themselves and what benefits they would derive. Two people questioned the logistics of how to track. Almost half of the respondents expressed a general mistrust of Facebook in terms of privacy controls.

What else did I learn? Well, maybe I’m not so crazy after all. :)

Now it’s time to open this up for the QS community to weigh in… Would YOU track your health on Facebook? Post your comments below.

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