Topic Archives: Lab Notes
Earlier this summer we found out that the Knight Foundation was launching a challenge centered on funding “innovative ideas to harness information and data for the health of communities.” We decided that this would be a great opportunity to propose a program idea we’ve wanted to work on for a long time: A Quantified Self Civic Festival. The idea of the festival is that the highest value in personal data lies in its usefulness for self-discovery, both individually and in our communities.
Traditionally, research questions about health and wellness are addressed from the top down. Professionals choose which health measures are important, while citizens are seen mainly as sources of data and recipients of expert advice. We’d like to help turn this world upside down, inspiring individuals, families, and communities to define what they’d like to track, and why, while enlisting experts as servants to a broadly popular adventure in making knowledge. (A guiding principle of the festival would be that participants have maximum control over their own data.)
We’d love your feedback. You can comment here, but it would be very helpful if you commented on the challenge website. While you’re there, take a look at some of the other wonderful entries. There is a wealth of inspiration and we’re excited to see what comes out of this work.
Ever since we started QS in 2008, the toolmakers, inventors, and entrepreneurs who create self-tracking instruments have been an active and essential part of our community. I know from working with many of them directly that they enjoy contributing and benefit a lot from our active and diverse community.
We recently started a program to invite QS Toolmakers to contribute directly to funding our events. We call this program Friends of QS. Contributions from our Friends enable us to produce our conferences, publish the Quantified Self blog, and coordinate our growing network of volunteer leaders of QS Show&Tell meetups.
Our inaugural group of Friends includes individuals and companies whose work many members of the QS community will recognize. We’re really proud to announce their participation. Thank you, Friends of QS, for helping grow the QS movement.
If you would like to participate we invite you email our Development Director, Kate Farnady, to learn more.
Our 2013 Friends of QS include:
|Beeminder is a goal-tracking tool with teeth. Connect a QS gadget or app (Fitbit, RescueTime, etc) and Beeminder plots your progress towards your goal on a Yellow Brick Road. Stay on track and Beeminder is free. Go off the road and you (literally) pay the price.|
|Calit2 is a multidisciplinary research institution jointly run by UCSD and UCI devoted to conducting cutting-edge research discovering new ways that emerging technologies can improve the state’s economy and citizens’ quality of life.|
|Douglass Winthrop is an SEC registered investment advisor with offices in New York and San Francisco. The firm manages $1 billion for individuals, families, trusts, and endowments. Douglass Winthrop is owned and managed by its principals.|
|You were born to move. Ergo Depot’s hand selected line of height adjustable desks and ergonomic seating encourages natural positions and movement. They empower people to function more efficiently, feel better, and live longer. Ergo Depot is evolving the way humans work.|
|Since 1998, Gordon Bell has been working on the MyLifeBits project with Jim Gemmell – a quest to understand how you store everything in your life in cyberspace. After QS2012 he became a “trackee” of health data using CMU’s Bodytrack holding BodyMedia, Heartrate and other data.|
|LUMO BodyTech in on a mission to give the body a voice. They aim to bring good posture and movement back into our daily lives using the latest sensor and mobile technologies, starting with their first product LUMOback.|
|Naveen Selvadurai is a Quantified Self enthusiast and an internet entrepreneur and co-founder of location-based social networking site, FourSquare. He worked previously at Socialight, Sony Music and Sun Microsystems.|
|Open mHealth envisions a world where disparate mobile health applications can be harnessed to deliver data-driven patient stories. Collaborating with a community of developers, clinicians, researchers, and business leaders, Open mHealth is a non-profit building an open software architecture that emphasizes modularity and reusability of digital health data.|
|Project Addapp is a platform created by two guys passionate about self-tracking. It allows users to pull data from multiple different tracking tools to create experiments to see, for example, how training affects sleep or how calorie intake affects workouts.|
|RescueTime is a Seattle-based company whose tools are used by more than 600,000 people worldwide to get an accurate picture of how they spend their time each day to help them be more productive. RescueTime is launching new consumer, business, and mobile offerings in Q3 2013.|
|Rock Health is powering the future of the digital health ecosystem, bringing together the brightest minds in health and technology to build better solutions. Rock Health supports digital health entrepreneurs through a startup accelerator, public events, and open-source research.|
|Sen.se has created an open platform (currently in beta) called Open.Sen.se for those who want to imagine, prototype and test new devices, installations, scenarios, and applications for this globally interconnected world.|
For about a year QS Labs has been working on a small scale project to learn how we can get more meaning out our personal data. The program involves small group discussions in which participants share data in advance, collaborate on visualization and analysis, and discuss the results. With a research grant from Intel, we’ve been able to schedule another round of these for the coming months. They are called ”QS Co-Labs.” The events take place online (over Google Hangout). If you’d like to participate, please let us know by filling out the survey below.
We’re focusing this round of QS Co-Labs on a few specific themes. If you’re using self-tracking tools, apps, web services, or devices to track any of the following we especially want to hear from you!
- Data Aggregation (e.g. Tictrac, Runkeeper, Fluxtream, etc.)
- Physical Activity
- Email (meta data)
We can’t do this without the generous help of our community. We have some great data visualization experts and analysts who are helping us, but we can always use more. If you have visualization or analysis experience and want to participate, share your skills, and help others get meaning out of their data we would love to have you. Fill out our survey or let us know directly.
If this sounds interesting and you’d like to take part then please fill out our short survey so we can get to know you better.
In the QS world I’d like to live in, our personal data would be easily available to us to learn from using many different methods and tools. Here are some conditions I think would make this easier:
- Data can be exported from the various systems we use into a simple format for exploration.
- We can store and backup our data using whatever method we want.
- We can share our data with whomever we want.
- We can rescind permission to look at our data.
- We can flow our data into diverse visualization templates and analytical systems.
I’ve tried to express these conditions briefly and simply, but any of them – and certainly all of them together – require changes in the systems we currently use, and these changes may be challenging for technical, business, social, and political reasons.
I know many people in our community have worked on parts of this problem, and I’m interested in your comments and ideas.
If you’ve been reading our posts for a while you’ve most likely noticed that we typically reference the Quantified Self community. If you’re not familiar with our structure and how to get involved you might be asking yourself, ”How do I get involved with the QS community?”
So there I was the other day sitting in a coffee shop and perusing the various Quantified Self Meet Up groups around the world. I was blown away by the how many people are taking time out of their busy lives to host and attend meetups in their cities. As we’ve mentioned before, Quantified Self has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it is due to our enthusiastic community of experimenters, tool makers and learners. We now have 45 groups around the world sharing their experiences and knowledge! Take a look at the map below to get a glimpse of our worldwide community.
View Quantified Self Meetups in a larger map
If you’ve never been to Meet Up take a look at the map to find one in your area (links to Meet Up groups are included). Is there no group in your city? Well go right ahead and start one! We’ve compiled a great FAQ to get you started and on your way.
Did we miss your group? Add it to the map (it’s public and editable) or just post a comment and we’ll add it to our list.
As 2011 comes to a close, we wanted to post a snapshot of where Quantified Self is now and how we’ve grown in the past couple of years.
Thanks and congratulations everyone! We look forward to another amazing year of sharing data, stories, experiments, and friendship together.
Here is another peek behind-the-scenes at Quantified Self Labs, explaining how we work and why we have so much fun.
There are two basic principles we follow in a pretty hard-core way as we grow and nurture our community. They are tied tightly together, and make it really stress-free to do this QS work. These are minimalism and sustainability.
Contrary to common perception, minimalism is not about having and doing as little as possible of everything. It’s about having as much as you need of things you value, and not spending money on one thing extra. It’s only doing your highest value work that feels good and is needed, and not using up time on anything that’s not necessary or fun.
So for instance, we don’t have office space, because we’re happy working from home and libraries and coffee shops. That’s how I get my five miles of walking in every day, by having a coffee shop just far enough from my house that it gives me a good, regular workout. But we do have really good computers, because they’re our tools for making all this possible, and we need to work with the best tools (otherwise it’s a waste of time and productivity.)
Obviously, minimalism requires knowing what it is that you value, and learning how to recognize opportunities that fit your values. So for example, sitting on a conference call is neither enjoyable nor an effective way to get things done, compared to our other methods. We therefore say no to anything that requires us to participate in conference calls. But long one-on-one walks are both connecting and inspiring, so even if they’re not strictly necessary to get work done, we do them because we value them.
Does it seem too foolish to use conference calls as a filter for involvement in a project? Isn’t this letting a minor detail get in the way of bigger issues? Surprisingly, no. A request to submit to conference calls is a great clue that we won’t be able to use our best minimalist methods. We will have to substitute process for true organization, and waste precious time. Using simple assays like “no conference calls” to inspect opportunities for minimalism is itself a great tool of minimalism.
Minimalism is related to another principle that means a lot to us: sustainability. If you only spend time and money on essential things, and get really good at saying NO to everything else, you can keep your project going pretty much indefinitely.
All three of us here at QS labs: me, Gary, and Kevin, have watched many venture funded companies come and go over the years. We understand why people take this route, and we always root for people in our community to succeed with their startups. But for ourselves, we’ve decided that this method is not the best. A truism of the startup culture is that investors only expect one in ten of their companies to succeed. While it’s good that people have a chance to fail, and failure isn’t held against people who take risks, we don’t particularly want to fail. It hurts us to see friends rush headlong towards failure, afraid to be honest with themselves because of the burden of the financial obligations they’ve accrued. We’d like better odds for ourselves, and for our community members and collaborators.
One way to improve the odds is to be able to start small, take time, listen, experiment, and learn. Not taking any investment funding allows us to do this. We considered making QS Labs a nonprofit, but when we looked into it we found that even this approach involved more overhead (paperwork, board of directors, meetings) than we felt was necessary. In the end, we decided just to articulate our social vision and get to work.
Also, though it isn’t talked about very much, emotional sustainability is as important as financial sustainability. If you consistently do things you don’t like because you feel like they need to be done for some reason, you are likely to burn out. Why not think about other ways to get the same results, that are also enjoyable for you? For us, focusing on being gentle with ourselves and taking good care of our emotional and physical well-being is a priority. This has many good effects, including allowing us to imagine continuing to do this work for a long time.
I hope this inspires you to consider what you value in your work, and find ways to bring more of that into your daily routine in a simple, sustainable way.
(Thanks to lisbotk for the great photo!)
Quantified Selfers really love to gather face to face, sharing stories and experiments and tips. I’ve even had the humbling experience of people telling me that coming to a QS event changed their life.
So how do we put together our events, to encourage this deep, collaborative learning? With our first European QS conference coming up 2 weeks from now in Amsterdam, now seems like a good time to reflect on our process.
What we create is a carefully controlled balance between order (top-down, lecture-only conferences) and chaos (bottom-up, created-on-the-fly unconferences). You could call this hybrid model “the carefully curated unconference.”
Here’s what we do:
1. Find a flexible space. We mix up plenary sessions in big rooms with breakouts in small rooms, with very generous breaks for people to talk to each other. It’s great to have quieter spaces for people to hang out as well as open central areas. Here’s a sample schedule to see how it flows.
2. Invite all attendees to speak. Rather than seeking out “big name” keynoters to draw people to the conference, we recognize that every person coming has an interesting story to tell. So we invite people, when they register, to share a link to a Twitter page or personal web site. We click on every one of these links, trying to figure out who is coming and what they care about. Then we write to every person, asking if they would like to present a short talk or lead a breakout discussion. We get involved in countless email threads. It is a ton of work, and also very inspiring and fun.
We typically find that one quarter of attendees want to be speakers. At our last conference in Mountain View, this meant a rich and diverse program of 100 speakers.
3. Create a thoughtful order. Because speakers come in right up until a few days before the conference, we like to wait until fairly close to the event to announce the program. We spend a lot of time thinking carefully about whether we have all the important topics covered, who would make inspiring plenary speakers, and how to cluster talks and breakouts in thought-provoking ways. The speaker lineup for Amsterdam just went live yesterday!
4. Keep the price affordable. As a social enterprise, we’re not trying to make huge profits from our events. We do need to cover our costs, but we also give out a lot of scholarships to PhD students or people in financial need. This is made possible in part by sponsorships from generous people at Autodesk, Basis, Bodymedia, Creative Commons, Fluxtream, Fujitsu, Gain Fitness, Genomera, HealthTap, Humana, Intel, Kaiser Permanente, Limeade, MedHelp, Microsoft, Mohr Davidow, Philips, Quantter, Scanadu, WellnessFX, and Zeo. Thank you so much.
5. Focus on the in-person experience. We don’t generally put a lot of effort into videotaping every session, or livestreaming the event, or documenting every talk in writing. To really experience a QS event you have to be there in person. At the beginning of the conference, we set the tone – this is a weekend for collaboration and learning, you are free to spontaneously start new sessions as ideas pop up, everyone here is an expert, it’s more important to dive deeply into conversation with a newfound connection than to attend every session. Bring your full attention to where you are, and tweet later.
6. Recognize the volunteers who make it happen! I want to publicly call out thanks (in alphabetical order) to Bo Adler, Jelle Akkerman, John Amschler, Martijn Aslander, Alex Bangs, Robin Barooah, Farid Behnia, Matthew Bright, James Burke, Sara Cambridge, Matthew Cornell, Steven Dean, Maarten den Braber, Eri Gentry, Denis Harscoat, Karen Herzog, Chia Hwu, Scott Jackisch, Rajiv Mehta, Michael Nagle, Joost Plattel, Kees Plattel, Ernesto Ramirez, Richard Sachs, Matthew Trentacoste, and Yuri van Geest, for all their dedicated help in making our events amazing. Also, thanks to all the people who step up to help in the moment. We couldn’t do it without all of you.
7. Recover, learn, repeat. After each conference comes a period of reflection, self-care, and rest. We look at what went smoothly, what didn’t, and what attendees suggested to improve for next time. Before long, we’re planning the next inspiring event. So much fun!
We hope to see you and hear your self-tracking story at an upcoming event!
(Thanks to Chewy Chua for the great photos.)
This is another post in our Lab Notes series to give you a sneak peek at how we work behind the scenes at Quantified Self Labs.
“What’s your vision for Quantified Self?” and “Where will QS be in 10 years?” These are probably the two most common questions reporters ask us. I never know how to answer these questions, because QS wasn’t started with a grand vision to be imparted to the world.
When I officially came on board as QS Director last year, I was explicitly told to listen. Listen to this growing community, see what it wants to be, nurture it organically and help it thrive. This was my directive. Which I was excited about, because listening is my favorite thing to do.
If you’re familiar with Lean Startup ideas, this may sound familiar. As we work on QS, we iterate rapidly. New ideas are tested, and if they catch, we keep going with them. If not, we move on to something else. No time or resources are wasted on pushing forward with something people just don’t want.
We roll our own brand of this philosophy, weaving Nonviolent Communication (NVC) into it to make it more robust. NVC is all about recognizing that everyone has needs, and that everyone tries to meet their needs through their actions and words. If you can listen and understand these underlying needs, and communicate your own needs as well, then a peaceful, effective solution can be found for any challenge.
That last point is important. You have to listen to yourself, too. We incorporate our own needs and preferences into our work, to make it sustainable and fun for a long time going forward. We chat instead of using phones, we create community and content and experiences rather than spending time on marketing or name-dropping. Basically, we find the intersection of what we love to do and what the community wants us to do.
It’s like a dance. We step in close to partner with the larger QS community, connecting and guiding each other as we move to the music and listen kinesthetically to each other. It’s a wonderful feeling to wake up and dance through every day.
So where will QS be in 10 years? I haven’t the faintest idea. You tell us – we’re listening!
(Thanks to NCBrian for the cute picture!)