March 27, 2020

5 data pursuits to take your mind off the pandemic

It’s nice to be working from home. I like the comfort of my own home, my tea collection and being able to work in comfy clothes. Still, it has been getting to me at times. Every day started to feel the same and time is passing very quickly. On the internet, everyone is talking, writing and thinking about the same thing which doesn’t help either.

That’s why I thought I’d bring together a list of small personal pursuits or data adventures you can go on to get your mind off the current events. Think of them as exercises to practice your data acquisition and data understanding skills.

Disclaimer: I don’t have Kaggle on this list mostly because nearly everyone already knows about it. But also because it is currently full of COVID-19 datasets. I wanted to talk about some alternatives.

1. Analyse your Google Maps history

If you have enabled it, surprise surprise, Google has been collecting information on where you’ve been. It is pretty creepy to realize if you weren't aware of it but look at it on the bright side, now you have data on all the places you’ve been over the last years. That is a good amount of data you can work with. You can visualise this data on a map, analyse your frequently visited venues or simply observe your routine.

How to:

To download your location history, go to https://www.google.com/maps/timeline

Unfortunately, I never gave permission so I don't have any data collected.

On the bottom right, click the gear icon and select Download a copy of all your data. There is also an option to request your data to be deleted if you are uncomfortable with this data being out there.

2. Work with data for a good cause with Driven Data

This website hosts data science competitions and releases datasets. In that sense, it is similar to Kaggle but Driven Data does this for charities and non-profit organizations. You don’t have to be an excellent data scientist to take part in these competitions. Simply download the data, understand the dataset and start building using your imagination.

I think there are really good examples of open-ended problems on Driven Data. A good opportunity to practice your creativity when it comes to finding solutions or creating insights from raw data. I’d say, give it a shot.

How to:

Visit https://www.drivendata.org/ and choose the case that sounds interesting to you

Especially if you're looking for real-life use cases, Driven Data is the place to go.

3. Find your dream dataset on Reddit

Redditors request and share many different datasets. I, personally, look for datasets here first when I need one. Visit this subreddit once in a while and who knows, maybe you'll be inspired about your next personal project.

How to:

Go to https://www.reddit.com/r/datasets/

You can use the sorting options to get the most popular datasets.

4. Download your data from social media platforms

Google is not the only place you can download data collected on yourself. All the other social media channels have been collecting data on us to customize their platforms and to be able to offer personalized recommendations. Thanks to the recent data privacy laws and data ownership discussions, now, companies are obligated to give people an option to get a copy of the data that was collected on them.

Working with these datasets would be a good exercise for you to experience messy data. You might not be able to predict anything with them, but playing around with them is always fun. My suggestion would be to try to get the data in order and see what kind of insights you can extract from it. Maybe you will discover things about yourself that you weren't aware of. Who knows.

How to:

LinkedIn

  1. From your feed click that little picture of you and select Settings & Privacy.
  2. Choose Privacy > How LinkedIn uses your data.
  3. Click on Getting a copy of your data, choose what you want included and click Request Archive.
  4. You probably need to provide your password and then you can download your data.

For more information visit their official site.

Facebook

  1. Go to https://www.facebook.com/settings.
  2. On the left click Your Facebook Information.
  3. From the menu choose Download your information.
  4. Again choose the data you want included and click Create File.

For more information visit their official site.

Twitter

  1. From you Twitter feed select More > Settings and privacy.
  2. Under Account, select Your Twitter data.
  3. Enter your password under Download your Twitter data.
  4. Click Request Archive.
  5. Twitter will send you an email when your data is ready to download.

For more information visit their official site.

Whatsapp

  1. On the iPhone: go to the chat you want to download, tap on the person's name, scroll down, tap Export Chat
  2. For Android visit their official site.

5. Set up a funnel to collect data from yourself / your friends

There are a lot of datasets out there which you can download and work on. But what about creating your own dataset to analyse in the future? Yes, we are not experts in data collection so we shouldn't expect amazing results from this but it is fun and it will make you appreciate the challenges of data collection. Here is someone who's done it: I tracked my happiness each day for a year
All you have to do is set up a Google Forms form to be sent to you (or to anyone else you want to include) via email every day or however frequent you want it to be and collecting the answers. You can make it a bigger scale project by including your friends too.
One example project could be tracking your mood and relevant factors. Especially now that we're spending a lot of time at home, it would be really interesting to see what makes you feel better or worse and if you can detect it. Maybe you’ll be able to see a correlation between if you’ve been outside that day and your mood.
One caveat is that you need to have a Google account to follow the instruction given here. Are you ready for this? It sounds complicated at first but it’s actually pretty easy.

How to:

Creating the form

1. Go to Google Forms.

2. Create anew form and fill it in with your questions.

3. Go to the responses tab and click the Google Sheets icon.

4. Write the name you want for your response spreadsheet and click create. This makes sure when you get a response it is saved to this newly created spreadsheet.

Now for setting up the daily sending functionality

1. Send the form to yourself.

2. Open the email you sent to yourself.

3. Click on the three dots (for Gmail) and click Show original to view the original version of this email.

4. Scroll down and copy everything in between the <html> tags.

5. If it is encoded use this site to decode the html code.

6. Copy the decoded code.

7. Create a new Google Spreadsheet, the name does not matter.

8. Open the spreadsheet and go to Tools > Script editor.

9. Create a new HTML file, the name does not matter.

10. Remove everything and paste your decoded HTML code there.

11.1. Paste the following into .gs file.

11.2. If you want to send it to multiple people, use this code instead.

13. Make sure to change the email address and type in the name of the html file you created.

14. Click run to test that the email is sent correctly.

15. To schedule it to run everyday click Edit > Current project’s triggers.

16. Click Add Trigger.

17. Set up the options as you want it and click save.


18. Now your script will be run as you want it to and will send the Google Form to your inbox so you can fill it and collect your data.

These are some of the ideas that came to my mind when I was thinking about simple personal projects. Let me know if you use any of these options to create a personal project or if you have anything to add to this list!