Our Three Prime Questions

September 20, 2011

We started Quantified Self as a casual meeting for users and makers of self-tracking tools. Now that our project has evolved into an active, international community, I’d like to offer a concise description of what it’s about. This will help if you are organizing a Quantified Self show&tell, giving a talk, or launching an independent project inspired by what we do.


At the Quantified Self, we talk about our first hand experiences using self-tracking methods and tools. This approach is embodied in Three Prime Questions:

1. What did you do?
2. How did you do it?
3. What did you learn?

I’ve organized and hosted many QS Show&Tell meetings here in the Bay Area, so I can say from experience that the Prime Questions make the job easy. Once you commit to hearing personal stories of self-tracking, you no longer need to worry much about recruiting speakers. Let anybody share a self-tracking project, within the constraints of time and common sense. Slickness or charisma are unimportant. Every talk about actual practice has value because it lets us learn and think about one person’s approach. Since the goal is collaborative learning, rather than killing time through entertainment, a speaker who is struggling due to nervousness, confusion, or lack of preparation can be helped along by questions from the group.

We like scientific theories, demos of tools and apps, and philosophical speculation. But in the context of a Quantified Self Show&Tell they distract unless they are grounded in actual attempts at self-tracking and self-experiment. When theory or demonstrations are embedded in an account of personal experience, however, they work great. Tell us what you’ve done, how you did it, and what it means to you, before making the leap to speculative assertions or entrepreneurial self-praise. Your listeners will learn more, and everybody will have a better time.

We understand that some of you want to use the QS community mainly for collaborative work on your tools or to meet potential users. That’s why a typical QS Show&Tell meetup begins with an informal workshop and social hour, where open tables near electrical outlets let you demo anything you want. Where the demand for startup conversation is very high, we may also experiment with a separate MeetUp track for this. But we try to reserve our ongoing QS Show&Tell for reports of actual self-tracking projects and results.

In short, when you organize or present at a QS Show&Tell: Ask the Three Prime Questions!

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