Thinking about a data-driven college

In an effort to start tracking some of the ideas I have while reading I want to start making note of ideas and questions that come up here. This is the first of such posts and we’ll see what form they take in the future.

Tracking my book reading

Interesting article that examines some of the frustrations with current systems for tracking reading habits. Since I just finished writing an article for The Whitman Pioneer about open knowledge systems this got me thinking:

  • What if colleges started working together on building an open standard for tracking reading? I’m thinking of a system that would get me set up as a Freshman with a way to keep track of every article, journal essay, and book that I read while in school. Then, when I graduate I can either move the system to my server, or the college provides an export file to import into various other services. If I could go back four years and be presented with a choice between a school that had this system and one that didn’t I know which I would pick in a heartbeat.
  • Could we conceive of a service that would not only track reading but track conversations about books? What if I could record conversations with others about a book and upload them to a service, forever associating that conversation with that reading experience?
  • What good is it to track book titles and authors if I don’t also have a canonical, searchable copy of that book online?

The Data-Driven Life

Long feature piece from The New York Times about the various ways people are tracking data about their everyday lives. It turns out that seemingly mundane things can offer remarkable insight into how our minds and bodies work. Couple points about this:

  • All (unless I missed one) of the services mentioned are owned by single companies. Some, in the case of Nike+, by massive corporations. I think there’s a huge opportunity for someone to come up with an open source data tracking system that allows users to own their data. Follow up: what happens to all this wonderful, data-driven insight when these companies go out of business?
  • How can we tie this data-tracking to business interactions? What ways could I track data that would reveal the companies that most consistently affect my day in a positive way?
  • Academically, it’d be interesting to track attention during a semester-long course to see which subjects and discussions were most captivating.


What particular data points would you want to track about each book, and what would you want to use them for? Things I can think of:

Topics of each given book, track change in interests over time
Language/vocabulary density to pace, track reading abilities
Periodic recall quizzes to test comprehension

P.S. WordPress and other blogging platforms really need a dedicated reader, hint hint nudge nudge. Tapping this comment out in Mobile Safari was an act of commitment to the comment 🙂

Andrew says:

Tracking topics is perhaps the most immediately applicable use of this.

The most important aspect to me would just be the ability to have an indexed archive of all the text I’ve read. I’m imagining being able to search through all that I’ve read and explore/research topics using metadata associated with each book, journal, or article.

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