Bytes of Life

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

When San Francisco couple Brynn Evans and Chris Messina heard of a new Web site called BedPost, they registered an account before the site was even out of beta. BedPost was created to map users' sex lives online -- everything from partner to duration of the encounter to descriptive words, which could later be viewed as a tag cloud.

Relationships and one-night stands alike, condensed to spare, inflexible data in a way that might make the average user uncomfortable. Or simply baffled.

But for Evans, a grad student studying cognitive science, and Messina, a Web entrepreneur, the site was just what they needed.

After all, they already use project-management site Basecamp to chart the nonsexual parts of their relationship.

They use location tracker BrightKite.com to study where they've been.

They track their driving habits on MyMileMarker.com, their listening habits on Last.fm, and their Web-surfing habits, to the minute, on RescueTime.com.

"Brynn uses a service to track her menstruation," says Messina helpfully. (Two of them, in fact: MyMonthlyCycles.com and Mon.thly.info). Some of these trackings are visible to other people, but mostly the couple monitors the information just for themselves.

Before BedPost, they'd been using an Excel spreadsheet to track each interlude since the beginning of their six-month relationship, though they found the interface limiting. They saw BedPost and thought, "Oh, look, this guy's doing this, too, and he's actually making plots of it. Plotting was cool," says Evans.

Yes, plotting was cool.

The ability to visualize trends over time.

Now they could really start getting somewhere.

Is the careful tracking performed by Messina and Evans just a form of high-tech navel gazing? Or is it the opposite of narcissism -- an insecure belief that people cannot accurately evaluate what's best for them without the aid of a Web site?


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