Adjectives to Describe Me

In high school, I used to ask friends for three adjectives to describe me. I cringe a little now reflecting on the attitudinal teen navel-gazing activity of self definition, but it was an interesting exercise. It told me as much about how others saw me as it did about my friends themselves. I judged responses on how I thought they suited me, and on their creativity with vocabulary (once a word nerd always a word nerd).

Lately, I’ve been asking what my data says about me to other people, firms, and governments, and more importantly, to systems that interpret and target me as a data subject. 

Five is a new program that allows us to see how others might analyze our status updates and profile information by reflecting back a personality assessment, complete with spectrums of behavior and five isolated adjectives to describe us.

Five suggests that I’m apparently “inventive, assertive, restless, friendly, and efficient.” They aren’t spot on, but they aren’t terribly off the mark either. Still, they aren’t really meaningful without any explanation of why Five came up with these particular descriptors for me. There’s no causal explanation.

The five point personality chart does offer some explanation when you click through on the scale. For example, I’m scoring 87% on the openness scale, based on words like “writing,” “book,” and “i’ve been” that “have high correlation with this trait.” Based on my Facebook profile, I exhibit an interest “art…unusual ideas, creativity,” which all sounds right to me. My lowest scored trait is conscientiousness, which seems to be based on a lack of updates featuring the word “work.” This says more to me about the correlations (people like to write about how they are “back at work” while they are on Facebook first thing Monday morning?) than it does about my conscientiousness. But what am I supposed to do with the suggestion that I’m 76% neurotic except be comforted by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg (81%) and Lil Wayne (85%) are both more neurotic than me? 

For now, Five is of limited use because it analyses only Facebook statuses. For my sample, that’s a paltry 1,113 words. I don’t post to Facebook all that much, so it’s not as interesting as say Twitter analysis would be to me (my voice is decidedly different on each platform, too).

But it’s an important proof of concept towards building up the cadre of tools we have that make data and its uses more legible to us. Others include Immersion, Demetricator, and Collusion, all of which allow us to visualize and play with our data that is otherwise hidden. Sometimes they even share some of the interpretive analysis.

Sure, Five comes off about as meaningful as a multiple choice personality test in the latest issue of Seventeen. But this trivializes its importance as a tool for reflecting back to you what your data says about you. As I’ve argued, we need more opportunities and tools like this, whether they are browser and API plugins, or they are are integrated as features of the system like Facebook’s new advertising explanations. Adding it to the toolbox…