What is this?

The LIX Index is a contemporary digital portrait, using data about and derived from a person in her social world. The LIX Index is a piece of performance art. The LIX Index is a modern version of the Mass Observation movement. The LIX Index demonstrates a novel social research method. The LIX Index is a bit like some bad social science.

Who is behind it?

The LIX Index represents me, Lucy Kimbell. I work as a designer, researcher and educator based in London. See my other art projects here including Physical Bar Charts, shown internationally including in Making Things Public (2005) and at TED Global (2011). I am associate fellow at Said Business School, University of Oxford, where I have been teaching design thinking and service design to MBAs since 2005. I am interested in using open data and shared resources as the basis of new services and social innovations.

How does it work?

This project involves a process and a web site.

I gather 50 pieces of data and update a database, once a week. This pops out a new value for the LIX Index which I publish via this website. Just as a stock exchange index aggregates a number of underlying stocks, so the LIX Index model combines several pieces of data, although mine are not all of the same type. Together they form a picture of how I am doing.

I also write short reports about how the LIX is performing, which are published within the website. Here I make public the difficulties and surprises of living with the LIX. I also report on interviews and discussions with specialists from a variety of fields that have something to say about this project, from sociology and psychoanalysis to economics, literature, informatics and social policy. I also discuss any revisions to the data, weightings and scaling factors included in the LIX calculation.

Visitors to this website are able to directly affect the next value of the LIX by using a poll on the front page. They can also impact on its value by starting to follow or mention me (@lixindex) on twitter. They may also indirectly affect future values of the LIX by communicating with my directly, in person or via digital media.

What makes the LIX go up or down?

There in total 50 pieces of data, or that's what I am starting with. Over the year I expect I may want to change or add a couple of variables. These are combined into groups with these labels: relating, well-being, practicing and sustaining. Each piece of data has an associated scaling factor (since some events such as emails are in the hundreds each week, whereas some happen only once) and weighting factors (how significant I decide it is and whether it is negative or positive). I do not make public the magical calculation that produces the LIX. Nor do I publish the underlying data. It's therefore hard to identify correlations between variations in one underlying piece of data, and changes in the LIX Index value.

How often is it updated?

I aim to update the LIX Index weekly, most likely Sunday nights. This version of the project will run for 12 months. I plan to do another version in about another ten years, assuming I'm still alive.

How accurate it the data?

Unlike some of the people excited by the idea of the Quantified Self, I am not so concerned that the data are accurate. Some of the data I input to the website each week are reasonable estimates; for others, I check a value on my blog or twitter account, or my bank balance or FTSE100 value. I don't think the LIX project rests on the accuracy or verifiability of the data.

Why are you doing this?

I see this project as somewhere between a piece of performance art and an inventive method within the social sciences. In the arts, people such as Heath Bunting and Natalie Jeremijenko have also been playing with data in productive ways for many years and I enjoy their work enormously. In design there is a whole world of people exploring data visualisation. In the social sciences, there are other examples of playing knowingly with the active construction of data. One example is How's My Feedback – a feedback website for feedback websites by Malte Ziewitz and Steve Woolgar.

What's different between doing it in 2002-03 and doing it now?

When I first did the project it was created and funded with support from arts institutions. It made sense to me, but was obscure and quirky. Then a few years later I started noticing other people, often designers, exploring ways to capture and share data about their lives such as Nicholas Feltron who published his first report on his life in 2005. Then I noticed that Ryan Case and Nicholas Felton had co-founded Daytum. Numerous people told me it was like the LIX, except it wasn't. It was a platform to support people capture and share their data, often done quite earnestly, whereas the LIX publishes a possibly meaningless aggregation of some data. Infographics became fashionable. Meanwhile a culture of Facebook updates, Twitter, blogging, new devices to capture data such as my Nike fuelband, sites to share data such as Dopplr, the cloud, GPS, mobile broadband and a whole load of investment by corporations, research bodies and individuals, has resulted in a changing context in which lots of people now routinely capture and make public data about themselves. What's interesting here is not just that individuals do this, but that they help turn their data into something collective.

Should we – like people celebrating the idea of the Quantified Self – get busy tracking aspects of our lives, studying the data to make some changes and possibly increase well-being or performance in some area of life? Is this just a contemporary neurosis that will pass as people get bored of studying their own or other people's data? Is the data itself of interest to others – such as social scientists or future historians?

What are the constituent data in this new version of the LIX Index?

See the data page on this website.

How are the data in this version different to the 2002-3 version?

There is a lot of overlap between the first version and this new version of the index. But there are some important differences about what I choose to measure and how I scale and weight each item based on life changes (like having a child) and different ways of looking at the world I am in and part of. I'll explain more in my reports on this website.

I also plan to engage in discussions with specialists from different perspectives whom I will interview to unpick how this undisciplined project resembles but does not do a proper kind of research activity. So far I plan to interview sociologist Noortje Marres on doing public experiments, designer Matt Jones of Google on designing info appliances, Nicholas Feltron on living with one's data, design theorist Cameron Tonkinwise on ontological politics, sociologist Nina Wakeford on inventive methods, and curator Helen Reckitt on feminist art. They haven't all said yes yet.