Self-Tracking Tools Review 3

In this review, I will take the considerations that I wrote about in my last article to analyze some self-tracking tools. The considerations are: 1) What questions are the tool answering? 2) How is the data collected? and 3) How do you reflect on the data? I’m also adding a fourth consideration, data portability, as suggested by Jason Bobe.

Track Your Happiness
Track Your Happiness is a research project by Matthew Killingsworth who works in Dan Gilbert’s lab at Harvard. The research project gives you the tools to find the factors in your life that leads to greater happiness. According to the site, the tool will produce a report that “will show how your happiness varies depending on what you are doing, who you are with, where you are, what time of day it is, and a variety of other factors.” I used the tool for a month and the report showed me the correlation of sleep quality and quantity on my happiness and other factors such as how focused I am, whether I’m doing something I want to vs. have to, and how productive I am.

Collection. The way that Track Your Happiness collects information is via your iPhone or smart phone. The site sends you a random text message three times a day (the frequency is editable). The text message contains a link to a web page which has a form that asks you various questions about how happy you are and what is currently happening with you. After completing the form, you get a graph that gives you a taste of the full report; the graph shows you the correlation (so far) between your happiness and a randomly-selected factor. This was a nice addition because it encourages you to keep inputting data as the study progresses 1.

Reflection. At the end of a month of data collection, Track Your Happiness will produce a report with graphs of the correlations between different factors and your happiness. Despite enduring a whole month of interruptions from the text messages and answering the questionnaire, the whole experience was worth it for the report. The report is very easy to read despite the sheer amount of data that was collected about me in a month. In my report, the correlation between my happiness and my sleep quality/quantity was very strong.

Data Portability. The graphs in the report are printable. Even after a year of seeing my report, I could still access it by logging in. Unfortunately, the individual data points that I recorded are not available.

Mint
Mint is a web site for tracking your finances. But unlike tracking your finances from your bank web site, Mint gives you the tools to track your finances from multiple accounts, such as your bank, credit card, loans, even investments. With Mint, you’d be able to get a holistic view of your finances from month to month and answer questions, such as where are you spending your money? Are you spending too much on non-essentials? Are you reaching your budget goals?

Collection. The collection of financial data is already done by the accounts; your banks, credit cards, and investments already have records of your financial transactions. What Mint does is gather all this information from multiple sources into a single service. The setup is quite easy. You provide your account information and Mint handles the transferring of data from your multiple accounts. At this point, you might be weary about security, but the Mint folks have taken good measures to protect your account information.

Reflection. Mint automatically categorizes your transactions and provides various visualization tools to help you analyze where you are spending your money. First, Mint provides a graphic that shows how you are doing with your budget for the month. The graphic is very easy to use and can be viewed at-a-glance. Second, Mint provides visualization timelines and pie charts, so you can explore your financial history over a long period of time and view specific details of your transactions. Lastly, Mint sends alerts and messages to inform you of pending payments, low balances, and opportunities to save.

Data portability. Mint does not provide an API to get your financial data directly from them. However, there are several ways to get your financial data:

# You can go to each of your financial institutions and download the data from them directly.

# Yodlee, a financial data aggregation company, provides tools to developers to make applications that use data from financial institutions. Yodlee served as a backend to Mint. However, since the Intuit acquision of Mint, I don’t know if Yodlee is still Mint’s backend provider. Yodlee provides a service called Yodlee MoneyCenter that is similar to what Mint offers.

Wrap up
These reviews have been quite lengthy, so, for readability’s sake, I will only talk about two today. Then, I will review two more tools this week. Again, please leave comments below regarding your experiences with the tools I mentioned.

Footnote
fn1. I’ve actually done a study that shows that having visualizations while collecting data helps with keeping the user actively collecting data (view paper | citation).

Bio
Ian Li is a PhD candidate in Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University . His research is on HCI and personal informatics. He is the creator of various self-tracking tools, such as: PersonalInformatics.org, Grafitter, MoodJam, Be Like Ben, and DeliciousDiscovery.

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2 Responses to Self-Tracking Tools Review 3

  1. Patrick says:

    Hi Ian,
    Mint sounds like a great tool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support banks outside the US yet…
    Patrick

  2. Matthew Cornell says:

    Great post, Ian. I especially love your questions #1 and 3. (And who can resist your rhyme – Collection and Reflection?) I think there’s a split between the process of using the tool, and how the tool supports that process. In your writing you describe five components, if I have it right: Preparation, Collection, Integration, Reflection, Action. For question #1 (What questions are the tool answering?) I’d want to look at what questions the self-experimenter has going in (and the quality of the design), along with what natural questions the tool can answer. In other words, what’s the world look like to the tool, and does it match my exploration. Specific tools make this comparison easier, of course.

    For question #3 (How do you reflect on the data?) I’d again split it into process and tool. *Every* experimental process should have reflection baked in. That’s part of the “Think” in my own Think, Try, Learn. Like #1, how well the tool supports that reflection is important. I agree that those that build in triggers (like TYH) are especially helpful for keeping the user engaged with her experiment.

    Great stuff!

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