Browsing history may show your commitment to new year’s resolutions

This is the first of our #Heartbeat blogs, a series about human behavior mined from the browsing, social and opinion data that OpenUp collects from our user base.

One of the most amazing things that happens when you observe human behavior through the lens of billions of data points is that our idiosyncrasies are often magnified as trends in human behavior.

At the end of 2016, I went over my Google Calendar to review my year, and, like billions of others, set goals for 2017. One of my goals was to eat less candy (a goal that I am currently failing at as I write this). I am not alone. A quick Google Trends search for the evergreen New Year’s resolution of “weight loss” shows the heartbeat of human hope and disenchantment:

This graph, showing a spike in interest every New Year which then fizzles out over time, represents the surge of us hopeful souls who Google techniques on how to lose weight, quit smoking, be a better husband/wife, get more organized, etc. It also represents the petering out of that passion over time.

However, reducing our behavior to a single number that represents our collective “interest” in weight loss each day masks the fact that when and how we research our goals can be a strong indicator of whether we accomplish them.

At OpenUp, we incentivize our users to share their browsing data with us. Our user base is a little smaller than Google’s, but we still observe similar trends, both in terms of the spike in New Year’s resolution related content before the New Year:

And, to a lesser extent, in terms of the specific goal of losing weight:

However, when you start to take a look at when and how users are viewing weight loss content, a more nuanced picture of the pursuit of their goals emerge. This is represented (in our data) by two archetype users: “Ron” and “Hermione”:

Both Ron and Hermione viewed weight loss content throughout the 61 days of November and December. However, compared to Hermione, Ron’s browsing was less frequent and more concentrated around New Year’s Eve.

Ron browsed for weight loss content 4.6 times less than Hermione, while doing 6 times more of that browsing on New Year’s Eve. To put it another way 19% of Ron’s weight loss searches came on New Year’s eve vs 3% of Hermione’s.

First, take the total amount of urls related to weight loss that Hermione and Ron visited over November and December, and you’ll see that Hermione did the lions share of reading about weight loss.

But the second graph is the % % of weight loss URLs visited during the months of November and December vs. New Year’s Eve:

Hermione appears to be thinking longer-term and more strategically about pursuing her weight loss goal. While Ron — feeling the existential pressure of the new year to take action — is motivated to dive in but may not have staying power.

I’d put my money on Hermione succeeding. She reminds me of how the lion’s share of human achievement has come not through outbursts of inspiration, but through slow, consistent progress.

And so, in 2017, I won’t try and “change the world”, but instead be realistically optimistic: One of the things I’m most excited about is taking this somewhat qualitative analysis, and building out a platform that will allows us to quantify not just how some types of browsing behavior might be related to others, but rather, how patterns of behavior might predict meaningful outcomes.

Well, at least that’s one of my resolutions.

From OpenUp, all the best for 2017.

Heartbeat is a series of blog posts about human behavior mined from the browsing, social and opinion data that OpenUp collects from our user base.

Writing and analysis by Bryan Sim — @fluxandcadence