Business intelligence is nice, personal data apps are better

Companies use operational data to improve efficiencies, but the truly exciting intelligence/data movement is in the area of personal data applications like Lose It, Runkeeper, and Wesabe.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

The business intelligence community has made much of its ability to transform the way enterprises operate, and even the way the world works. Open source takes this to the next level, as OStatic recently described. And yet, as exciting as open-source business intelligence is, it's not what gets me out of bed every morning before sunrise. What drove me out of bed to climb 2,474 feet on my mountain bike this morning is the personal intelligence movement or, more accurately, the personal data movement.

The data behind my morning ride
Tim O'Reilly talks eloquently about "data as the Intel Inside" of companies like Google, and he's right. But the data-driven businesses that are changing my life are applications on my iPhone that remind me to exercise, to avoid that second helping of chocolate mousse, and that help me manage my personal finances.

It used to be that the more ambitious among us managed our time and goals with a Franklin day planner. "Goal: Lose 20 pounds. Run five miles each day. Etc."

Today, with our iPhone strapped to our arm or thrown into our Camelback, we're still managing our goals but the data feedback is unforgiving, instantaneous, and deeply motivating. Lose It!, for example, is a phenomenal weight-loss tool. I've mostly been using it to maintain my preferred weight, but I've watched my good friend Bryce Roberts melt away 30-plus pounds while getting into the best biking shape he's ever been in.

Not that Runkeeper hasn't helped. Both Bryce and I use it to track our mountain bike rides. Using the iPhone's built-in GPS capabilities, Runkeeper tracks my rides, calling out to me each mile what my pace has been, motivating me to ride harder. As if that weren't motivation enough, I have Runkeeper set to automatically post my times and workouts to Twitter: I often refuse to rest simply because I know my Twitter friends are going to pillory me if they see a weak pace.

This ability to minutely track my exercise and diet regime so easily has literally changed my life, so much so that I've been exploring other areas that could be improved through data feedback and analysis.

One that I discovered over the weekend is Ego, which tracks Google Analytics statistics, Twitter follower counts, and more. I had already been tracking my statistics for this CNET blog on an hourly basis, for example, to see which posts were resonating and where, but Ego now gives me the ability to take that obsession on the road with me.

Given the recession, never before has it been more important that my wife and I manage to a budget. I've been a Wesabe user for a year or two now, and am just now starting to experiment with Wesabe on the iPhone. My wife, however, uses Mint, a similar service, which also is available on the iPhone.

I'm sure that such tools can be used to excess, but my experience thus far has been that they greatly improve the control I have over my life. These iPhone applications have helped me to track my progress against personal goals and, in so doing, have facilitated that progress.

Even as the Googles of the world get rich on the aggregation of our personal data, other companies like the makers of Runkeeper enriching our lives by making data personally useful and actionable. To make this happen, we simply needed mobile devices to be as powerful as they were ever-present with us.

Now that this has happened, there is no end to the possibilities our personal data affords us, especially as application providers find ways to allow us to mingle our data with others to drive enhanced value for both parties.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.