TV scrobbling and attention data – What’s Dale been watching?

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling chartsI love it when people take control of their own attention data. Dale Lane has set up a lovely TV scrobbling service in his house, allowing him to capture and share what he watches on TV.

The overlap between rich information visualisations, attention data and television is fascinating. I’m not surprised to see Dale doing it based on his impressive track record with visualising home power consumption.

I’ve been running MeeTimer on my laptop for about 9 months now to spy on my own browsing habits (and had a stab at visualising that data last year), which I continue to find very useful. Did you know that in the past month I’ve spent an average 15 minutes visiting Gmail every day, but only 9 minutes using Google Reader? Nor did I.

Dale’s project brings the same sort of self-analysis to his TV viewing, and there are plenty of interesting discoveries. He cuts the data by channel, by time, by day, whether it was recorded or live and so on.

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling charts

Publishing not only what he (and his family) watches, when and for how long is an astonishing amount of self-revelation and probably more than most people would be comfortable with. On the other hand, I now know that he’s watched the lastest Never Mind the Buzzcocks for less than 10 minutes and I now want to ask him about that. In the same way that sharing travel plans on Dopplr leads to more opportunities to meet with friends and hence more beer, sharing your viewing with your friends creates lots of conversation starters (useful for you), plus a chance for social discovery to uncover new gems his friends would otherwise have missed (useful for the broadcasters).

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling charts

Be sure to also read his explanation of why he wanted this system, how it works, and future plans, which include thoughts on how to detect who is watching what.

For Dale, this is all made possible because his home entertainment system is also a computer. That and the fact that he’s a very talented hacker of course. For most people, this automatic capture would be a difficult thing to set up and it raises some interesting questions about the future for personal attention data. Should YouTube,  iPlayer or 4oD  provide me with a list of what I’ve watched, or is it up to me to capture that? Will Canvas allow users to make use of their own attention data?

Imagine if future set top boxes spat out convenient XML of exactly what we’d watched, so we could all decide ourselves what we do with our data. Wouldn’t that be useful?

Update: Tristan Ferne has done a similar (though more manual) thing for nearly all of his radio listening in 2009. Meanwhile, Matt Locke points out some work he commissioned in 2005 from live|work for the BBC about user data.

“The unanimous decision was that the BBC shouldn’t use personal data solely as a source for marketing information, but that they had a responsibility to enable the public, as individuals, to own, and get value from, the data trails we all leave behind”.

Hurrah. I also know I’m not the only person at the BBC who is excited about continuing to build on that kind of thinking.