Summarizing a year of your life in an infographic report

One designer has put together another yearly report on his own life that is a series of infographics:

For nearly a decade, designer Nicholas Felton has tracked his interests, locations, and the myriad beginnings and ends that make up a life in a series of sumptuously designed “annual reports.” The upcoming edition, looking back at 2013, uses 94,824 data points: 44,041 texts, 31,769 emails, 12,464 interpersonal conversations, 4,511 Facebook status updates, 1,719 articles of snail mail, and assorted notes to tell the tale of a year that started with his departure from Facebook and ended with the release of his app, called Reporter…

New types of data forced Felton to experiment with novel visualizations. One of Felton’s favorite graphics from this report is a “topic graph” that plots the use and frequency of specific phrases over time. It started as a tangled mess of curves, but by parsing his conversation data using the Natural Language Toolkit and reducing the topics to flat lines, a coherent picture of his year emerges a few words at a time.

After nine years of fastidious reporting, Felton has an unparalleled perspective on his changing tastes, diets, and interests. Despite a trove of historical data, Felton has found few forward-looking applications for the data. “The purpose of these reports has always been exploration rather than optimization,” he says. “Think of them more as data travelogues than report cards.”…

Felton says it’s relatively easy for companies to make sense of physical data, but properly quantifying other tasks like email is much harder. Email can be a productivity tool or a way to avoid the real work at hand making proper quantification fuzzy. “The next great apps in this space will embrace the grayness of personal data,” says Felton. “They will correlate more dimensions and recognize that life is not merely a continuum of exercising versus not exercising.”

Fascinating project and you can see images from the report at the link.

I like the conclusion: even all of this data about a single year lived requires a level of interpretation that involves skills and nuance. Quantification of some tasks or information could be quite helpful – like health data – but even that requires useful interpretation because numbers don’t speak for themselves. Even infographics need to address this issue: do they help viewers make sense of a year or do they simply operate as flashy graphics?

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