Sharing data on social media

People use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites as channels for self-expression. But whether updating or uploading, people are telling their social stories with only two tools: text and images.

But what if social media wasn’t confined to words and pictures, but instead, allowed users to uploaded graphs or tables? In other words, could data, pure data, become a token in our social currency?

That’s the thought contributed during a panel session at the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco by Gary Wolf, contributing editor at Wired, and an organizer of Quantified Self, a community whose users meticulously track certain aspects of their lives, some down to infinitesimal levels, such as how they spend every minute of the day (no joke).

Wolf’s comment followed a presentation by Stead Burwell, the CEO of Alliance Health Networks, who demoed Diabetic Connect an information and community site for patients battling diabetes. Alliance spent a great deal of time (read: money) on creating user profiles that would allow visitors of the site to connect with their peers, patients who share similar experiences. But that connection, they found, was key. As Burwell said in his presentation, users not only like to receive badges and virtual rewards, they like to hand them out as well.

Noting how willingly people update their status on social media sites like Facebook, sometimes with unrestrained detail, Burwell wondered how to bottle this social energy to get patients to openly share personal health data.

In my opinion, the limitations aren’t technical. After all there is nothing preventing users on Facebook from uploading a JPEG charting the number of miles they ran in a given month. Sure, social media sites could make tools available to users to facilitate the process, but that’s the easy part – there are already a number of product-related sites, such as Nike+, that do just this. The shift that Wolf describes, and that Burwell hopes for, is more philosophical, a change in the type of information we feel comfortable sharing with our friends, families, and colleagues.

So here’s my request: If you track any aspect of your life, whether your weekly running mileage, calories consumed by food, weight fluctuations, or daily blood glucose readings, share your data with your social network. Let’s see what happens.

Photo via Flickr / Sean MacEntee

Brian Mossop is currently the Community Editor at Wired, where he works across the brand, both magazine and website, to build and maintain strong social communities. Brian received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College, and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2006. His postdoctoral work was in neuroscience at UCSF and Genentech.

Brian has written about science for Wired, Scientific American, Slate, Scientific American MIND, and elsewhere. He primarily cover topics on neuroscience, development, behavior change, and health.

Contact Brian at, on Twitter (@bmossop), or visit his personal website.

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