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This page from Felton’s 2009 annual report shows every notable social encounter he had.

At Facebook, users already engage in countless acts of data entry, so it’s possible that the data Felton will be visualizing will already be available. Automated data gathering through smart phones—especially location data—provides even more data to mine.

Eventually—with users’ permission—this kind of personal information could be mined by marketers and advertisers. Ted Morgan, CEO of the geolocation software company Skyhook, compares the trend to the way advertisers currently track some TV viewers’ watching habits. In the future, he says, tracking data will be “like a Nielsen rating box for your life. It will track where you go and what you do. [Advertisers are] going to pay people to do this.”

One company is already exploring this possibility. Locately offers users promotions and discounts if they agree to opt in to its mobile data-gathering network. This lets the company gather data on where people go, what they do, and what they buy; the company sells that data to businesses who want to use it for market research and advertising.

Gathering detailed personal data can produce surprising insights, says Felton. “The way people describe themselves is not really in line with their true behavior,” he notes. For example, users who track what TV shows they actually watch may find that they spend more time on shows they don’t identify as their favorites.

Perhaps this could lead to a whole new kind of friend discovery, one based not on our expressed interests, but on our actual interests. Picture a beefed-up version of Facebook’s “people you might also know” feature informed not just by who you’re connected to, but what behavior you have in common.

“It could be shared affinities that are not recognized by either [party],” says Felton. The downside, of course, is that people who are a lot like us often drive us crazy. “You might hate them,” says Felton. “Isn’t that part of what annoys us about our families?”

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Credit: Nicholas Felton

Tagged: Computing, Facebook, data, tracking software, visualization, infographic

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