Leveraging Social Media for Self Reflection
by Ian Li, Anind Dey, and Jodi Forlizzi
“K“K now thyself.” Carved in stone in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, that was the first thing people saw when they visited the Oracle to find answers. The benefits of knowing oneself are many. It fosters insight, increases self-control, and promotes positive behaviors such as exercise
and energy conservation.
One way toward self-knowledge is to collect information about
oneself and reflect on it. Benjamin Franklin understood this when he
recorded whether he achieved one of his 13 virtues every day for
50 years. Today, people track their personal information using a new
class of applications and Web sites called personal informatics systems.
Personal informatics systems can automatically collect all kinds of
information, from financial transactions ( Mint.com) to computer
usage ( Slifelabs.com). However, some personal information cannot be
reliably detected automatically, requiring users to collect it manually,
observing themselves and recording their behavior or reactions on
paper or a Web form.
In addition to requiring more attention and time, there are three
main issues with manual data collection. First, the input device may
not be accessible. If the user records data on a spreadsheet, she can
only record it when she is at her computer. People use paper because
of its portability and ease of use, but it introduces a second issue: transcription. People eventually have to transfer their data from paper to a
graphing tool. The third issue is that most personal informatics systems focus on only one type of data.
Designing Personal Data-Collection Tools
In light of these issues, we think a successful manual collection tool for
personal informatics should include the following features:
1) support for recording with various inputs in multiple contexts,
2) easy integration of collected information into the reflection tool,
3) flexibility in supporting various types of information.
We designed and built a system called Grafitter that exhibits the
above three features. First, Grafitter leverages various social media to
allow recording various inputs in multiple contexts. Second, Grafitter
automatically aggregates data from these various inputs into one tool
for reflection. Lastly, Grafitter allows people to record various types of
information with a format that is easy to remember and can be written quickly.
usually are about what she does at school and at home. Samantha
recently learned about Grafitter and decides to record her daily
moods, how busy she is, and her weekly goals.
In the following scenarios, Grafitter allows Samantha to collect
personal information with the medium that is immediately at hand.
Sitting next to a window in class, Samantha notices that the trees
are starting to grow leaves after a long winter. She updates her Twitter
account using her mobile phone to alert her friends: “A good sign: new
leaves are sprouting! #mood(optimistic, warm).”
On a busy Thursday afternoon in the library, Samantha asks a friend
a quick question via an instant messaging program. Samantha sees the
Grafitter IM bot ( firstname.lastname@example.org on Jabber and email@example.com
on AOL Instant Messenger) on her buddy list and also sends it a message about how busy she is: “#busy( 5) Making progress on my lab study,
but forgot my phone.” The IM bot saves her record for later viewing.
While studying for an exam before spring break, Samantha finds an
interesting Web page on leatherback turtles. She bookmarks the page on
Delicious with the note: “Have to save the turtles! #goal(conserve water).”
After two weeks of using the Grafitter format while tweeting,
instant messaging, and sharing on Delicious, Samantha is curious to
explore the trends in her mood and how busy she is. She visits
Grafitter.com and enters her Twitter name on the site’s top navigation
bar, which takes her to a page where she can view graphs of the data
she recorded on her Twitter account. She can also enter her Delicious
username or IM screen name to reflect on the data she recorded from
those two services. In all instances, Grafitter pulls the data from the
appropriate sources and prepares them for visualization.
Samantha can record various types of information using the
Grafitter format. In the above examples, she recorded her mood, busyness, and goals. She chose the labels, #mood, #busy, and #goal, respectively, to represent these types of information. Grafitter did not
constrain her on a particular type of information and she was free to
choose the labels that were most meaningful to her.
The Grafitter Format
The format is inspired by and builds upon Twitter hashtags, or words
prefixed with a the symbol #. Hashtags is a convention that the Twitter
users’ community developed to indicate metadata. For example, a
tweet describing a presentation at the CHI 2008 conference might
read, “Just saw an interesting study on Wikipedia. #chi2008.”
In the Grafitter format, the hashtag serves as the variable name.
Within the parentheses that follow the hashtag is the value of record.
Values can be numeric, textual, or a list of values separated by commas.
Grafitter in Context
To better explain how the system works, it helps to use example scenarios in which Grafitter could be used.
Samantha is a college student and an avid Twitter user. She has
been using Twitter for four months and sends an average of 15 Twitter
updates, or tweets, per day, similar to other active users. Her tweets