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The Wolfram|Alpha Team

Tracking Life Changes with Personal Analytics

August 27, 2013 —
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For many of us, the end of summer is a time of change. You might be going to college, starting a new year of school, or taking a new job. Even if you’re not, there’s a decent chance that you’re still meeting some new friends and living a little bit differently in general. We’ve previously looked at what Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook can tell us about the evolution of our society, but we can also use Personal Analytics to inform us about how we change over time as individuals.

As you may already know, you can load your Facebook report by typing “facebook report” into Wolfram|Alpha. If you’re interested in signing up to track changes to your report over time, you may want to turn on Historical Analytics when given the option, either before your report loads or at the top of the report screen:

For the most detail, though, you’ll probably want to just take a couple screenshots of the report as a whole: one now, and one after a few months at your new job/school/etc. (You can take a “screenshot” of an entire webpage using extensions for Firefox or Chrome.) You can also download portions of your report data using Wolfram|Alpha Pro. For now, let’s walk through a sample report (it may help to pull up your own report in a separate window for comparison) and see what we should keep an eye on.

We can skip past the basic info at the very top (your birthday isn’t changing anytime soon) and move straight to Activity. The Recent History box tracks, in a nutshell, how you’ve been posting over the last several months–are your vacation photos uploaded yet?–but the Weekly Distribution is where it starts to get interesting. What can you learn from the following chart?

You might guess from their posting times that this person usually gets up between 8-9am and goes to sleep by midnight on weekdays; on weekends, though, they’ll sleep in late a bit more often (based on the larger bubbles around 11am-1pm) and, incidentally, post fewer links and more statuses. Since this chart is from the report of your blog post’s author, we can tell you that you’d be right! But back when said author was in college (and a hardcore night owl), this chart would have looked completely different. For comparison, here’s the posting distribution for a current undergraduate student:

Though they have a couple early-morning posts, this student usually isn’t getting that active until 10 or 11am–but they’re staying up past 1am pretty often to make up for it.

Let’s move on down to post statistics. What you do on a daily basis will probably have an effect on what you end up talking about on Facebook–and who you talk about it with. One of the most fascinating aspects of Wolfram|Alpha’s Personal Analytics is the word clouds that are created from your Facebook status updates, and how they encapsulate your thoughts and interests for a given point in time. How will they change in six months? (Speaking of word clouds–don’t forget that Friday, August 30 is the last day to participate in our Set the Curve contest!) Checking out how your Top Commenters and Top Post Sharers have changed can reveal some interesting insights, as well.

At its heart, after all, Facebook is about friends, and Facebook’s friend data can provide some of the most fascinating patterns to keep track of. What you want to watch out for will depend on what kind of changes you’re making–if you’re going to college or grad school, your average friend age will probably increase a bit; if you’re moving to a new city, your map of friend locations will probably expand a bit, etc. Don’t forget that you can customize how your results are displayed to get the most detail. On Friends’ Locations, for example, you can change the results map to look at hometowns (not just current residences) within your home country…

…or change the accompanying table to the city level to learn that your list of friends includes three “Seoul mates”:

You can even use this data to expand your social circle. Find the friends that come from the farthest away and talk with them about what it was like growing up in such a different area, or hang out with the social butterflies that constitute the list of friends with the most Facebook friends–then check back a few months later to see how “successful” you were!

More likely than not, though, the biggest changes will show up in your social network graph, where whole new clusters of friends can show up overnight. If you’re joining a totally new group, they’ll probably be distinct from your other networks–unless there’s a surprising mutual friend connection you had no clue about. Wolfram|Alpha Pro users can also view and share their friend network as an interactive 3D graph:

If you like tracking the personal analytics of your life (like our founder, Stephen Wolfram), we hope you’ll enjoy using Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook as part of that effort. Have you already noticed any interesting changes in your Facebook stats since you started using Personal Analytics? Let us know in the comments!


This is incredible, this type of aggregation of personal analytics would be fantastic for life reflections and understanding your social circle developments

Posted by Mark Gadala-Maria September 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Having such granular data like this really changes the way we perceive analytics as a whole nowadays. This was certainly an eye opening post – thanks!

Posted by Anthony Guidetta July 23, 2015 at 9:53 pm