I’m back on the quantified self train. I have tried quantified self a number of times in the past but it has never stuck. More recently, I’ve become interested in quantified self because it gives me a lot of data with which I can experiment. While each individual metric may not be useful on its own, over time I will be able to collect a lot of data about myself.
I am unsure whether I’ll keep at quantified self but this time, for some reason, I am more hopeful. I’ve started to play around with quantified self metrics on this site and it has brought me a lot of joy. Even if the statistics just sit on this site, at least I’ll know that it was fun playing around with them.
Twenty years ago I saw in the Millennium, at home recovering from flu. My daughter was a toddler, I had no money, and was just beginning my career in web design. I had no idea what building websites would lead to, or what the web would look like 20 years on.
The other day I read Eddie Hinkle’s article in which he details how he either actively or passively tracks on his own website things he’s listening to or watching. I thought I’d take a moment to scribble out some of my thoughts and process for how and why I do what I’m doing on my own site.
I too track a lot of things relatively passively. Most of it I do for my own “diary” or commonplace book. Typically I’ll start out using silo services that have either RSS feeds or that work with services like IFTTT.com or Zapier. If those don’t exist, I’ll just use the ubiquitous “share” functionality of nearly all web pages and mobile platforms to share the content or page via email which I can use to post to my website as well. The primary minimal data points I’m looking for are the title of the specific thing I’m capturing (the movie, tv show/episode title, book title, article title, podcast title) and the date/time stamp at which the activity was done.
I’ll use these to take input data and transfer it to my own website, typically in draft form. In many cases, these methods collect all the data I want and put it into a format for immediate sharing. Other times I’ll clean up some bits of the data (almost always context related, so things like images, summaries, the source of the data, etc.) a bit before sharing. Then I optionally decide to post it either publicly or privately on my site.
Some of the sources I use for pulling in data (especially for context) to my website include:
Watches: IMDb.com, Letterboxd, TheTVDB.com, themoviedb.org, direct websites for shows/movies themselves
Listens: typically using share functionality via email from my podcatcher; Spotify, Last.fm,
Reads: reading.am, Pocket, Hypothes.is, GoodReads,
Bookmarks: diigo, Hypothes.is, Twitter, Pocket
Often, going the route of least resistance for doing this sort of tracking is a useful thing to find out if doing so is ultimately useful or valuable to you. If it’s not, then building some massive edifice and code base for doing so may be additional sunk cost to find out that you don’t find it valuable or fulfilling somehow. This is primary value of the idea “manual until it hurts.”
I will note that though I do have the ability to do quick posting to my site using bookmarklets in conjunction with the Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress, more often than not, I find that interrupting my personal life and those around me to post this way seems a bit rude. For things like listen posts, logging them actively could a be a life threatening endeavor because I most often listen while driving. Thus I prefer to take a moment or two to more subtly mark what I want to post and then handle the rest at a more quiet and convenient time. I’ll use down time while passively watching television or listening to music to do this sort of clean up. Often, particularly for bookmarks and annotations, this also forces me to have a second bite at the proverbial apple to either follow up on the bookmarked idea or think about and reflect on the thing I’ve saved. In some sense this follow up is way more valuable to me than having actively posted it and then simply moving on. It also becomes a way for what might otherwise be considered “digital exhaust” to give me some additional value.
Eventually having better active ways to track and post these things in real time would be nice, but the marginal additional value just hasn’t seemed to be there for me. If it were, there are also larger hurdles of doing these posts quickly and in a way that pulls in the context portions I’d like to present. Adding context also generally means having solid pre-existing data bases of information from which to poll from, and often these can be difficult to come by or require API access to something. As a result services like Swarm and OwnYourSwarm are useful as they can not only speed up the process of logging data, but they are underpinned with relatively solid databases. As an example, I frequently can’t use IMDB.com to log in television shows like Meet the Press or Face the Nation because entries and data for those particular episodes often don’t exist even when I’m watching them several hours after they’ve aired. And even in these cases the websites for these shows often don’t yet have photos, synopses, video, or transcripts posted when I’m watching them. Thus posting for these in real-time the way I’d like becomes a much more difficult nightmare and requires a lot more manual effort.
As a follow up to Eddie’s post (which doesn’t yet show the Webmention), I’ll also point out that Jonathan has an excellent description and some code for what he’s doing on his site as well.
1. keeping track of it all quickly and easily;
2. going back to contemplate on it and deciding what may have been worthwhile or not; and
3. using the above to improve upon your future media diet instead of consuming the same junk food in the future.
I try to use my own website (cum digital commonplace book) to collect everything quickly using bookmarklets from the Post Kinds plugin or RSS feeds from popular media-related websites (GoodReads, Letterboxd, reading.am, etc.) in conjunction with IFTTT.com recipes to create private posts on my site’s back end. Naturally, not all of my posts are public since many are simply for my own reflection and edification. Usually logging the actions only takes a few seconds. Longer reviews and thoughts typically only take a few minutes if I choose to do so.
The hardest part may be going through it all on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis to do some analysis and make the appropriate adjustments for the future. (Isn’t it always sticking with the adjustments that make it a “diet”?) Fortunately having all the data in one centralized place does make some of this work a lot easier.
Having lists of what I read online has definitely helped me cut out all click-baity articles and listicles from my information diet. It’s also helped me cut down on using social media mindlessly when I think about the great things I could be reading or consuming instead. Bad national news has also spurred me to read more local news this year as well. Those interested in some of these ideas may appreciate Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Comsumption, which I read several years back.
I experimented with eating and drinking posts early last year too, and the nature of posting them publicly was somewhat useful in losing about 10 pounds, but the work in doing it all did seem a bit much since I didn’t have as easily an automated system for doing it as I might have liked. Now I do most of these posts privately. Definitely having the ability to look back at the ton of crap I’ve eaten in the past week or month does help with trying to be a bit healthier in my choices. I look at posting photos of my food/drink to my own site somewhat akin to dietitians who tell people to use a clean plate for every meal they have–the extra work, process, and clean up makes it more apparent what you’re doing to yourself.
As I’ve written before about posting what I’m listening to, showing others that you’ve spent the time to actually listen to it and post about it on your own site (even with no commentary), is a great way to show that you’ve got “skin-in-the-game” when it comes to making recommendations. Kottke’s awesome recommendation about listening to the Seeing White Podcast has way more value if he could point to having spent the multiple hours listening to and contemplating it, the way I have. The situation is akin to that headline and link my friend just put on Twitter, but did she think the headline was cool or did she actually read the entire thing and wanted to recommend her followers also read it? Who can tell without some differentiation?
Lastly, I keep a “following page” of people and feeds I’m following on a regular basis. Put into broad categories, it makes an easy method for periodically pruning out that portion of my media diet using OPML subscriptions in my feed reader.
In the end, what you feed your body, as well as what you feed your brain, are important things to at least keep in the back of your mind.
This idea of tracking my media diet really appeals to me: Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts.Jason Kottke I …
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