Tag Archives: apps
Today we are happy to bring you another interview in our Toolmaker Talk series. We had the great pleasure of speaking with Sampo Karjalainen, the designer and founder of Moves. Over fifty percent of U.S. adults have a smartphone. That’s a lot of people walking around with a multi-sensored computer in their pockets. Moves is another example of how developers and designers are focusing on the smartphone as a Quantified Self tracking and experience tool. This is an exciting space, and one we intend to keep a close eyes on moving forward.
Watch our conversation or listen to the audio (iTunes podcast link coming soon!) then read below to learn more about Sampo and the Moves app.
How do you describe Moves? What is it?
Moves is an effortless activity tracker. It’s a bit like Fitbit or Jawbone UP, but in your smartphone. There’s no need to buy, charge and carry one more device. In addition to steps and active minutes, the app also automatically recognizes activity type: walking, running, cycling or driving. It also shows routes and places and builds ‘a storyline’ of your day. It helps you remember your days and see which parts of your day contribute to your physical activity. It’s a simple, beautiful app that hasn’t existed before.
What’s the backstory? What led to it?
We started Moves to motivate us to move more. Aapo Kyrola was doing his Ph.D at Carnegie Mellon University, working hard, gaining weight and lacking the motivation to exercise. We began discussing how to motivate people like Aapo to move more. The first prototype used game motivations: we had badges, leaderboards and virtual pet to motivate people. The problem was that they still had to remember to start and stop tracking. We quickly learnt that people didn’t remember to use it for everyday walks. That made us think that maybe we could make it work continuously in the background. It took plenty of R&D to find a way to minimize battery use while still collect enough data to recognize activity types and places correctly.
What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
We’re seeing that when you make activity visible, people start to think about it. And when they think about it, they start to do small changes in their lives. They may park their car a bit further or consider biking instead of car. They may choose to walk just to get some steps and take a break from everyday hurries. It also helps people see how long it takes to travel between places and how much they actually use time in different places.
What makes it different, sets it apart?
Other phone-based trackers are good for tracking one run or one biking event. Moves is made to track all-day activity. Compared to activity gadgets, Moves recognizes activities by type, recognizes places and shows routes. It’s collecting a new type of a dataset that hasn’t been available before. And best of all, we now have a public API, so you can use your data as you like!
What are you doing next? How do you see Moves evolving?
Currently we’re busy with the Android version of Moves and adding some features to the iPhone version. Over time we see that Moves will become a tool to understand not only your physical activity, but also your use of time, travels – your life in general.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Moves is collecting your location in time and space. It’s a great ‘backbone’ for connecting all kinds of other data. We’re excited to see what type of visualizations and mashups people create!
This is the 20th post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features intrepid self-quantifiers and their stories: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned? In Toolmaker Talks we hear from QS enablers, those observing this QS activity and developing self-quantifying tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences? If you are a toolmaker and want to participate in this series please contact Ernesto Ramirez.
Sara Cambridge is an interaction designer and a frequent contributor to the Quantified Self community. This past spring she was tasked with creating a unique information visualization as part of her graduate coursework at the UC Berkeley iSchool. Given her interest in QS she chose to use her experience with tracking her diet using the Eatery mobile app as the basis for her visualization project. Using the Eatery led her down an interesting path that helped her understand her own eating habits, how she compares to others, and how people “really” rate other’s dietary choice. (Filmed at the Bay Area QS Meetup)
“How do you feel right now?” Such a short question can lead us toward profound insights into our lives. But how do we ask ourselves that question? How do we keep track of our answers? There are many different ideas out there about how to tackle this seemingly simple question. Many of them focus on mood, which we’ve covered in previous Toolmaker Talks (see our posts about Happiness and Mood Panda). We’re going to explore another idea in his week’s Toolmaker Talk with Jonathan Cohen, the man behind the new (and soon to be released) app, Expereal.
Q: How do you describe Expereal? What is it?
Jonathan: Expereal is a simple iPhone app that allows people to rate, analyze, share and compare their lives. It was created to help people better understand their lives holistically, answering a most human question that cognitive biases can distort: “How’s my life going now relative to other time periods, friends and other users around the world?” In order to arrive at an answer, the app requires active participation, which it prompts via push messages (which can be turned off), requiring users to consistently rate their lives over time. Though it is unclear of whether millions of users care to actively measure their life, I went this route as a minimal viable product, because I was unconvinced of passive measurement’s efficacy, which crashes on the rocks of language interpretation and context.
Q: What’s the backstory? What led to it?
Jonathan: I read Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which outlined the duality and inconsistencies in the experiencing and remembering selves. I wondered if there might be some value in capturing the subjective opinion of the experiencing self over time to counterbalance the remembering self’s so-called “peak-end bias.” What I found quite interesting was that the peak end bias doesn’t only affect our view of past events; it also influences how we think of our lives holistically in the present tense. Imagine walking out of a terrible meeting in which your boss publicly reprimanded you for incompetence, and someone asks how your life is going. How would our answer be influenced? Would that answer accurately reflect our perceptions across a wider swath of time? It is unlikely, as the preceding moment would act as an “anchor” in assessing our present moment lives.
From what I can discern, Kahneman doesn’t necessarily argue that the remembering self is “wrong” per se; he merely illuminates that it inaccurately captures the experiencing self. In his book and TED talk, he slyly asks the rhetorical question if we had to plan a vacation, would we plan it to satisfy our experiencing or remembering selves? In any cae, I thought that it would be valuable to have a more holistic perspective on my life that offered an alternate, longitudinal vantage point than what the ever-present peak end bias might offer. Furthermore, I hoped that such information might help me “know myself better” and potentially make better decisions. I then wondered if others had similar questions and desires.
Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
Jonathan: The app is in alpha testing. I have received a range of feedback – some quite positive (about the design and the app’s social nature) and some quite negative (“It’s not very useful for me. It takes a lot for me to really think about my mood, not just a 1-10 rating.” as well as “What exactly am I rating 1-10?”) The strongest critique, which strikes at the app’s very viability as a product and business, is that most people are not really that interested in measuring themselves, particularly actively over time. Consequently, Expereal needs to offer something immediate and compelling to encourage people to interact with the app. What’s the immediate feedback that makes it both useful and “sticky”?
Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
Jonathan: Simplicity: I created the initial capture mechanism to be dead simple: “How’s your life going right now? 1-10.” If the user has to think about it, he’s overthinking. It wasn’t intended to measure “mood”, though it could be used as such. The Capture Details screen is totally optional, allowing additional information to be ascribed to a rating.
Aesthetics: Expereal was designed to look different from other apps, not so simple given that there are several hundred thousand. I was most inspired by the LACMA exhibition catalog “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965” and, to a slightly lesser extent, Edward Tufte’s data visualization books. I also respect the work of numerous “quantified selfers”, “data visualizationalists” and artists, including Jonathan Harris, Nicholas Felton, Jer Thorp, Jan Willem Tulp and countless others – many of whom consistently speak at the Eyeo Festival.
Social: I initially wanted to make the app solitary, because I was concerned that sharing one’s Expereal Ratings with friends would skew results, where users would only rate their lives when they were going well. I ended up taking a middle course: one can optionally share an Expereal Rating to Facebook, and one’s ratings and descriptions are used in anonymous aggregates. It could become more social depending on audience demand, but I want Expereal to remain true its core of helping users better understand their lives. It’s not meant to be another social network or to replicate Facebook, Path or Twitter, which could all be future partners.
Q: What are you doing next? How do you see Expereal evolving?
Jonathan: Expereal should be available in the app store in November. I have numerous ideas and dreams, but it will ultimately depend on user interest. Again, the core challenge is giving people who haven’t shown interest in active measurement inspiration to continually engage. I suspect that for most potential users, the social component will be a greater driver of interest and usage than advanced personal analytics, but am happy to be proven wrong and will adapt accordingly.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
Jonathan: Going from an idea to an app is an incredible challenge, yet even after it “ships”, it feels like the beginning of infinity. There are just so many possible permutations and extensions of what might happen. In another chapter of “Thinking,” Kahneman wonders why so many people start businesses without considering the terrible odds against succeeding. Right now, without question, I feel that it’s been a worthwhile endeavor. I’d give my life right now a ‘9’, describing it “rewarding”, “exciting” and “harrowing.” I love a challenge
This is the 17th post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features intrepid self-quantifiers and their stories: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned? In Toolmaker Talks we hear from QS enablers, those observing this QS activity and developing self-quantifying tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences? If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact Rajiv Mehta at or Ernesto Ramirez.
Alastair Tse recently moved to New York, and wanted to walk all of the streets of Manhattan! He tried a few different approaches to tracking this that didn’t work, so he decided to make his own app that doesn’t use GPS or drain his phone battery. In the video below, Alastair talks about his adventures in working towards this goal, and the interesting things he learned about himself from the experience. (Filmed by the New York QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
Melanie Swan of DIY Genomics describes the results of sequencing her own genome in the hopes of developing her own personalized preventive medicine strategies. She developed a mobile app that permits exporting of personalized sequencing data more easily. A series of small nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified by Melanie in her own genome relating to cancer, immunity and aging. Importantly, she has made available the results of her own deep sequencing results to be combined and compared with those of other individuals. (Filmed at the Bay Area Quantified Self meetup at Singularity University.)
Victor van Doorn describes himself as a nostalgic workaholic. He has tried and failed to keep diaries, so he decided to build an automatic one. His iPhone app Replay My Day (@replaymyday) collects his location and online activities each day, and builds it into a film – so when he’s lying in bed at night he can press play and literally replay his day. Victor also organized a fun launch party/contest to draw GPS snakes around Amsterdam! Check out his talk below. (Filmed at Amsterdam QS Show&Tell #3.)
When I want to start tracking a metric in my life, most of the time I use an app or service that enables me to do it more easily or provide options like statistics or sharing. I’ve tracked a lot of different things, some better and more easily than others. Sometimes my data would be locked-in, or sometimes I had to do the statistics on my own. During the last few weeks I’ve built a list of questions I ask myself before choosing a service for tracking. And I wanted to share my list with the community and service developers. This list is not definitive by all means, it’s a work in progress and questions may be added, removed or changed at all times.
Let’s get started! Before even looking at services you can use, it is wise to have a somewhat clear vision of where you want to go:
- What is my goal?
- What question do I want to answer with this?
- How often do I want to measure?
- In what ways can the metric be sampled?
- Do I need help from other people for tracking?
- How does it affect my social life?
- How much time should I need?
- How long do I want to keep track of it?
- Is it useful to share my data with other people?
When I’ve got these questions answered I start looking for services that fit my vision. When I have a list of services I could use, I go through another list of questions that allows me to make my choice more easily:
- How easy is it to enter data?
- What type of data do I need to put in?
- Is the data easy to export (e.g. Data-portability)
- Does the service provide analytics?
- Do I own the data or does the service, and how secure is it?
- What are the experiences of other people using the service?
- Does gamification help or not, and how is it implemented?
- What are the costs of the service in comparison to what I should get out of it?
- Is there an API (application programming interface)?
When I stop using the service or have been using it for a certain amount of time, these are the things I ask myself:
- Am I happy using the service?
- Would I use it again (for other metrics)?
- Write a review in the self-tracking guide!
So this is my own list of questions and things I want to answer when using a service or application for self-tracking. It’s a work in progress so feel free to put any more questions you would ask to yourself in the comments.
In this video, Rajiv Mehta talks about the importance of remembering for good experimentation — carrying out the experiment as planned and capturing the results properly — and the difficulty of doing this well. He described a new app, Tonic, that helps people remember and keep track of their health activities, and shared examples of people using Tonic to learn about and better manage their health. (Filmed at the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup on 3/24/11 at TechShop).
From the Amsterdam QS Show&Tell group: Martijn Aslander talks about his PersonalStats.nl project to track all of his personal data. He records everything from travel to the 5 best and worst things he does each day to how many people he addresses at his lectures. He meets 100-200 people every week, and was interested to learn which people he meets the most. In the video below, Martijn talks about the various iterations his app has been through, and why he is now settling on iPad and iPhone interfaces.
From the Amsterdam QS Show&Tell Meetup group: Beer van Geer (aka Universal Media Man) shows his award-winning Dagaz Project. His application uses the Neurosky EEG headset to quantify brainwaves during meditation on Mandala symbols. As you meditate you can see your progress in real-time. Watch his mind-blowing talk below.