Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

London Quantified Self group is born!

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cross-posted from QuantifiedSelf blog

Finally and thanks to the enthusiasm and to-do attitude of Dennis Harscoat, last Thursday was the launch of QS London group, organised by myself and Dennis.

What I saw at the meeting was nothing short of mind-blowing. We had three presentations, first by Dennis Harscoat talking about Quantter, then by Kiel Gilleade about body blogging his heart rate, followed by Jon Cousins explaining Moodscope. Each was pioneering in their own way and I felt I was watching something powerful that will continue grow in force.

Dennis’s motivation behind Quantter is the desire to help people to do something regularly, with constant improvement, following the 10,000 hour rule. The sooner, the better!

Kiel’s constant heart rate monitoring with added spice of being published in a twitter stream, opens up possibilities for understanding one’s body, for better and probably different kinds of diagnosis. He’s also an example of how it impacts our behaviour when its made public both from the participant’s perspective and their followers, which is probably the most intriguing area of self-tracking, at least for now.

Jon’s Moodscope is, among other things, evidence of how powerful and beneficial our friends can be. Plotting moods and sharing them with selected friends has helped Jon manage a serious and at times debilitating mental states. Now he wants to make it possible for others to do the same and I believe he’s well on the way there.

Thanks to all who helped to make such a meeting possible and we hope to organise the next QS London group meeting within a few months.

As this event was hosted by VRM Hub, the venue was GfK NOP, which kindly provided a meeting room and refreshments. VRM Hub is a regular meeting of people working on and interested in VRM – Vendor Relationship Management and there is a natural overlap between QS, self-tracking/personal informatics and VRM. As we already had a regular venue available, it made sense, philophically and practically, to have the new QS London group launch at VRM Hub monthly meeting. Our challenge for the QS London group will remain to find a more or less regular venue that fits the show & tell format – a quiet environment and ideally a projector.

Here is how I see the landscape, when thinking about all three and trying to explain it at the meeting:


My interest in personal informatics is related to the Mine! project and the way people collect and manage their personal data online. Mine! is being designed as an open source application/utility helping the individual user to capture, manage and share data on his own terms. It is intended to serve as infrastructure to various functionality and analysis applied to user’s data.

My focus in self-tracking and personal informatics is at the level of the individual. I don’t track much consistently, usually my exercise, walking and calories but nothing on the level of Kiel or Dennis or Jon. Apart from a natural interest in personal informatics and self-tracking as a new kind of literacy, I am very concerned about the privacy, data storage and individual focus of all this as I recognise how huge and potentially powerful it can be.

Personal informatics at the Future of Health Technology Summit 2010

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Earlier this week I was in Boston (more precisely in Cambrige, MA) at a brain-stretching event organised by the Future of Health Technology Institute, namely indefatiguable Renata Bushko, and supported by Professor Marvin Minsky at MIT Media Lab. It is an event to attend if you are a health future visionary of any sort. Academic and geeky in equal measure, it is a marathon through research (and often applied solutions) in several areas that excite those with eyes firmly set on further horizons in health technology – neuroscience, bioinformatics, computational biology, nanobiotechnology, biochemistry, physics, computer science, cybernetics, to mention a few.

I was part of a panel discussing personalised medicine. My focus was personal informatics, a growing interest for me in the last couple of years. And of course, the individual.

Here are the slides on which my talk was based uploaded to slideshare. Although slideshare now does slide notes (yay!), they don’t show in the embedded slides, so you can find the text of the talk below this:

Personal Informatics
“… characterised as the monitoring and displaying of information about our daily activities through intelligent devices, services and systems. This information allows us to see trends and opportunities for change that we would otherwise miss… If people can access this information about their daily routines, and interact with their own personal data currently invisible to them: would they make more informed decisions?”

From Physiological Computing:

“Bodyblogging is the act of logging how your body changes over time using web technology (e.g. a blog). This log can be used to inform ourselves how our activities and environment affects us in our day to day lives (e.g. logging weight on an exercise website). This data can subsequently be used to modify our own behaviours if we so wished (e.g. weight data could be used to determine which exercises are most effective for sustained weight loss). Wearable sensors allow us to record personal data about ourselves continuously without our intervention, and with wearable sensors becoming more pervasive the rise in body blogs is expected to continue. The feed provides 30 (or 5 or 1) minute snapshots of our user’s heart activity. Each tweet is time stamped to provide a continuous data stream allowing viewers to see long term patterns such as the sleep cycle and circadian rhythm (day cycle) as well as short term events such as exercise recovery.

While the things we might learn about ourselves may appear trivial this information can have a significant impact on the user’s behaviour when they have access to it. By experimenting with body blogging ourselves we can learn what responsibilities body blogging applications should undertake to protect their users as well as the utility of using certain physiological measures over others. For example after learning the effect of the high calorie food our current user reduced consumption of this particular product.”

The user having access to their internal state through passive and constant monitoring is one way to create self-awareness and also start seeing patterns. Of course, it is not enough to self-diagnose and neither it is desirable, but such data can go a long way towards new kinds or better diagnosis by medical professionals.


How it works: “You’ll track your own mood with Moodscope, but perhaps the best bit is being able to nominate someone – or more than one person if you like – to act as a ‘buddy’ for you. Each day when you’ve taken the test, Moodscope will automatically email your score to your buddies, along with a link to your graph so they can follow your progress. A buddy could be a trusted friend or colleague. They could be a partner or relative. They might even be a counsellor or therapist. There’s a phenomenon called The Hawthorne Effect in psychology, first observed during a series of experiments on factory workers which were carried out in the USA in the 1920s. The experimenters aimed to investigate how environmental changes, such as brighter or more subdued lighting, influenced the workers’ productivity. The conclusion was that the workers responded favourably to the interest that was being shown in them, so they became more productive when they knew they were being observed. It seems to us that the very act of knowing that someone else is keeping an eye on your mood may well help to raise your spirits. There are plenty of examples in other areas of life which suggest that monitoring something regularly can lead to positive change:

  • People who wear a pedometer tend to walk a mile a day more, on average, than those who don’t.

  • Dieters who weigh themselves every day lose more weight than those who weigh themselves less frequently.
  • Problem drinkers who are asked to keep a diary of their alcohol consumption tend to reduce their drinking over a period of time.

The first people to experiment with Moodscope have noticed similar effects over time: tracking their mood and sharing it seems to have caused them to be happier. ”

On individual level there is increased self-awareness, which leads to pattern recognition in the data and by extrapolation to one’s behaviour. One of those is establishing a baseline for the measured variable e.g. heart-rate or blood pressure, and noting deviations. Understanding the meaning of deviations can provide basis for changes of behaviour or at least better informed decision making. For healthcare providers, such data can be used for better or even different, currently impossible diagnostics based on previously unavailable data. With more structured and experience self-tracking and data gathering, clinical trials may benefit too.

Supply side
I am arguing here that innovation will be coming from the demand side rather the supply side given its ‘limitations’. A large responsibility for this goes to regulation, which stifles innovation wherever present. Then there is the research and academia which have their ways, methodologies and approaches that are not known for their flexibility but certainly known for their complexity. Centralised and often bureaucratic nature of healthcare providers and institutions doesn’t encourage innovation other than incremental and highly managed one. And lastly, this side is institution-driven, for their own interests and purpose.

Demand side
Whereas the demand side is driven by need - need for cure or treatment, better quality of life, ways to manage a chronic condition – for things that affect people’s life directly. It consists of individuals and communities. The complexity emerges from practice and knowledge comes from pattern recognition and self-awareness. There is no centre, the needs and solutions are distributed. The search for practical and immediate solutions can lead to radical innovation, which is often lateral to traditional approach and often commonsensical. But first of all, the demand side is individual-driven.

Assumption (and fallacy) of uniformity
The problem with innovation on the supply side is that solutions are designed to fit everyone or at least the largest number of people possible. Although a worthy goal, this invariably means one size fits all approach. This applies to healthcare due to the cost of development and regulation. When you observe the development of internet & web technologies, their adoption follows is a ‘heat-wave model’. You have a first small group, highly motivated and dedicated individuals who come up with a solution usually for themselves. This group’s usage improves it so the next wave of users can come on board, lather, rinse, repeat until it reaches mainstream or at least a significant niche.

Future’s here it’s just unevenly distributed…
Any conference with the word ‘future’ in it should have William Gibson’s saying mentioned at least once, preferrably more. So here it is. All major innovations, especially the ones that come from the wild – namely, the internet – have occurred over a period of time, with the early adopters being positively non-mainstream. The same applies to the self-tracking crowd, to a ‘normal’ person, these people appear unnaturally obsessive and to some even impersonal. The desire to quantify self or track one’s bodily functions is indeed odd. But I guarantee you that at the dawn of every major innovation that advanced human knowledge and life is a bunch of geeks of the same kind. And this building bears witness to it than most.

A new kind of literacy
What interests me about personal informatics, apart from the obvious benefits to one’s health and life, is what I call a new kind of literacy. Or another layer of literacy. To draw a parallel with books – before books become widely available people didn’t expect to know how to read and write. Once they became ubiquitous literacy was something that was not only expected but required as the general level of education rose.

Nobody can go back to saying, well, what do I need to read and write for – the priest, scribe, teacher, doctor will read or write what I need for me.So technology and the resulting availability of books (and information) turned something niche and exclusive into an indispensable part of individual’s life, part of their personal skill set.

Similarly with data – digital formats, copying, distribution, accessibility and therefore wider availability of data adds a data management dimension into our lives. Until recently only businesses and institutions processed information on any meaningful scale – scientific, financial, aggregate, industrial etc. But the technology brought analytical and data processing functionality to the individual and as a result it will become an integral part of our lives, online and eventually offline.

One approach is taking accepted or established scientific methodology and applying it to the individual. This has its merits, especially if the data output is meant to serve as input for further purposes. However, this shouldn’t be the only approach as individuals have different needs, complexity thresholds and might actually come up with new and useful analytical conventions. So insisting on scientific methodologies for personal informatics in all its aspects would be like taking manuscript conventions and applying them to printed books instead of letting paperbacks evolve.

There is also the opportunity for a feedback loop about the scientific quantitative methods themselves, as personal informatics will generate new ways of processing and analysing data either for convenience or other reasons. The new discoveries will then feed back to the scientific community. These days it is not unusual to see a monk reading a paperback.

Privacy ain’t dead yet

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Last couple of months I have found myself giving several talks on privacy. This isn’t exactly news as I have been banging on that drum for ages, but there does seem to be more interest in privacy and requests to talk about the topic.

This may be because people are realising how elusive privacy becomes as the web platforms are turning the screws on user data they have accumulated. I am looking at you, Facebook, though Facebook is not the only perp in town…

The first talk on the topic, which I enjoyed very much was the one I gave in June to the Oxford Libertarian Society. I tried to cover various notions of privacy and argued that privacy is to identity what freedom is to morality – the latter can’t exist without the former. Here’s the text in full.

Oxford Libertarian Society talk on privacy

My second recent talk on privacy was at LIFT France 2010, as part of the session called Privacy Revisited, Protect and Project with Daniel Kaplan, the founder of FING and Alma Whitten, Google’s Engineering Lead for Privacy. It is a sign of a good session where one learns much from the other speakers. After watching Alma’s interesting presentation, it occurred to me that in the world of web platforms and clouds, even ones that are trying to be benign, privacy boils down to something I should have opened my talk with…

Privacy is never having to delete things you don’t want anyone to see.

LIFT France Privacy

LIFT Privacy Talk

Social Media in Enterprise – the (pink) elephant in the ecosystem

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The talk I gave at a Social Media Week event organised by Alan Patrick and David Terrar (kudos for fast and efficient organisation!), called The Elephant in the ecosystem on February 2, 2010 at Cass Business School in London.

Here is a comprehensive summary of the evening by David Terrar.

VRM Hub 2010

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The coming VRM Hub evening will be the 2nd anniversary meeting. We are going to have a look at where VRM was two years ago, where it is now, and where we want to take it this year. As always, the discussion moves to the pub across the street after GfK NOP kicks us out.

Items for discussion:

  1. Monthly VRM Hub meetings this year

    Do we change the format? If so how? Creating ’speaker slots’ for each meeting and opening it up? How about letting different people organise each meeting, etc?

  2. An event or conference covering the topic interchangeably knowns as personal data, personal informatics, personal analytics, self-analytics, self-tracking etc

    Date: tba but ideally 1Q 2010 (though 2Q more realistic perhaps)
    Format: One day event, open space as well as some pre-determined speakers to make sure we meet those who are already active in this space (web apps etc)
    Venue: tba
    Supporters & sponsors: tbd

  3. Anything else that comes to mind…
  4. Pub

The sign-up page is here. We are meeting on Thursday 28 January 6-9pm, back at GfK NOP. Look forward to seeing you there.

VRM Hub London

Digital Identity Roundtable

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Yesterday I attended a meeting called a mashup* event – private Digital Identity Roundtable, organised by the indefatiguable Tony Fish – whose book My Digital Footprint also came out yesterday.

The conversation was varied and under Chatham House rules so can’t talk about it in detail. What I can repeat here is my closing remark – a result of pervasive assumption that there should be identity provider(s) and my data doesn’t need to be mine:

I want to own and drive, manage, share my identity.
I want to do that on my own terms, using technology that enables me rather than provides for me.
I want to be my own ‘identity provider’ and I’d rather address challenges that this would pose than shoe-horn notions and practices of offline identity management onto the online networked world.

There you go, I said it. Here I try to work on it.

VRM Hub July meeting

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The sign up page is up. This month we are doing a summer version of VRM Hub evening and will be meeting at Henry J. Beans‘ beer garden in the King’s Road, Chelsea at 6pm onwards.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

VRM Hub London

crossposted from VRM Hub

VRM Hub Open Space

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Another in the series of VRM Hub events, an open space event is planned for 30th March, registration opened here.

Here is the page for the event itself.

See you there!

February VRM Hub meeting

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The next VRM Hub meeting is on Thursday 26th February, 6-9pm at the same venue as the last month – GfK NOP building in Southwark, Room 15, 9th floor, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UL (map).

The topic will be further discussion of VRM – ideas, concepts, definitions, explanations etc, – a follow up on the game playing at the January session. Those who didn’t take part, do not fear, we have detailed notes on the results of January Game Playing.

Sign up here.

January VRM Hub meeting

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In the last two years I have discovered that the idea of VRM appeals to most on an instinctive level. People respond in different ways and with different ideas and interpretations of what VRM means and how to go about making it happen. This means people get involved, which is good. It also means people bring their more or less complete understanding, which is sometimes challenging.

I thought it would be useful to spend some time exploring what VRM means to each of us. So I decided to dedicate the January VRM Hub meeting to discovering together the various aspects of what VRM means to people who rally behind it. It might help us explain it better to others, and collaborate more effectively together on how to make it happen.

We are going to take a playful approach to this and many thanks to
Johnnie Moore
for agreeing to facilitate/run the game, and to GfK NOP for providing the venue. Johnnie works with all sorts of companies on collaboration and is going to use one of two of his favourite games to help us explore ideas together. He warns there’s a serious risk of having a few laughs and some danger of unexpected learning.

Sign up here, as usual.

Reminder: VRM Hub Christmas drinks will be on 15th December at Crosskeys pub in Chelsea.

VRM Hub London

VRM Hub November evening meeting

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Our next meeting is on Thursday 27th November, 6-9pm at the same venue as the last month – GfK NOP building in Southwark, Room 15, 9th floor, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UL (map).

Our speaker for this session will be, Nick Buckley, who kindly arranged the venue for VRM Hub until next February. He will talk about what the shift in balance of power between vendors and customers might mean for Market Research and where this might lead to real change rather than incrementally “adaptive adoption” of VRM. As always, I’ll encourage Nick to come at this from his personal perspective as a market research expert but also as someone who has observed the web and its impact on individuals.

I don’t have a link for Nick who is in the process of setting up a blog to continue to share his insight with the world. Good stuff. :)

Look forward to seeing you there, sign up here.

VRM Hub meeting in October

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We have a venue and a speaker for this month’s VRM Hub evening gathering. We are meeting at GfK NOP office, Room 15, 9th floor, Ludgate House, 245 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 9UL (map). Thanks to Nick Buckley we will be able to use a meeting room at GfK NOP office up to the end of February. Many many thanks!

Also, we have a speaker for this meeting – read a person who kicks off the discussion – Peter Parkes, a veteran member of the VRM Hub community and a social web (power)user will be talking about ‘VRM and the battle for relevancy’. His site is Peter Parkes and he is part of the team at we are social.

I don’t think this is about whether VRM relevant or not – one of the things very clear to me from talking to people about VRM for the last two years is that it is very relevant. The issue is how, not why. So interested in Peter’s take on it.

If we end up talking about something else that’s fine too. But at least now we have a speaker, er, topic to kick around. :)

So please do join the discussion, which will start at 6pm, carry on until about 9pm. Then we might retirw to a nearby pub, which is what usually happens. Look forward to seeing you there. Sign up here.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

VRM Hub London

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