Entries in self hacking (2)

Sunday
Sep112011

foursquare, rules and reasoning for using it

Recently I've once again begun getting more and more into foursquare, the location based social networking site. I first signed up when it became available in London sometime late 2009 and after a few months of avidly checking in everywhere that I went I began finding it less and less useful and eventually stopped using it.

Then earlier this year prior to attending SXSW I recalled someone saying how useful a service it was during the previous year for helping to keep track of where everyone was during the conference and throughout the evening parties. And it was. Throughout the conference the convenience of notifications each time a friend moved from one venue to another was invaluable both in terms of knowing where to go next and of course saving on costs of expensive SMS and voice messages.

Coming back to London post SXSW I continued using foursquare, although the benefit of knowing where my friends were quickly subsided due to the small number of people I knew who used it. My check ins were becoming less and less frequent, often occurring when I was stood in a queue, or I happened to notice the foursquare sticker on an entrance door. That was until I attended a London Quantified Self / Self Hacking meet up.

At the London Quantified Self meet up I heard from a bunch of people who were using data collected about themselves (from mood, to weight, to productivity) to help analysis and improve themselves. This got me thinking about the data that I collected about myself (at the time I wrote a short blog post) and other data that I may like to capture. One personal data set that I have which is fairly vast is a list of music I've listened to. The data goes back to pretty much all (digitally recorded) music that I've listened to since 18th July 2008. In a similar vain I also have a fairly comprehensive list of all the gigs I've been to. Many of these pre-2008 were added from memory or from rifling through a shoe box full of ticket stubs!

On the point of the listened to (or scrobbled) music I could have had a much richer data set. Pre-signing up to LastFM, the service which allows you to scrobble your music, there was a period where I didn't know why I'd want to capture a record of all the music I'd listened to. It seemed a bit pointless and I'd have no idea as to what want to do with that listening history. So I didn't sign up and I carried on listening to music.

Granted, right now I'm not doing massive amounts with that listening history. It provides a great mechanism for recommending new music to listen to, and via being hooked up to Songkick it serves well in notifying me of upcoming gigs based upon the music I listen to the most. And of course it provides great ammunition for bragging rights over who listened to a particular band first! I'm also certain that in the coming months, year, and years there'll be many more services that will call on that data to provide me with great things. So in hindsight I'm annoyed that during the period when I could have been scrobbling my music listening but chose not to I'm now missing out on having access to (personally) valuable data.

Back to the point of foursquare location data. I'm now thinking that although I don't know just how useful the data will be if I don't start capturing it now then it's lost forever. And when there's a revelation as to its use I'd be at risk of missing out due to not having that data available to me. Capturing the data is cheap in terms of effort, and there are all ready some obvious immediate benefits such as knowing where friends are hanging out, seeing places I've visited before, or the restaurants friends are liking. The potential future of location based data is exciting and I'm keen to make sure I'm set up for it!

Explaining my rationale for using foursquare has helped encourage a few more friends to also sign up or to revert back to checking in. This has evoked another side to foursquare, gamification, the use of points, badges and leaderboards to encourage some healthy competition amongst peers. Clearly this provides some added fun to process of checking in, some instant gratification to the process of collecting longer term useful data. It has also stirred up some healthy debate in the Osmosoft office, particularly around what constitutes a suitable check in. I thought I'd share a few of the unwritten rules that we've been playing by and highlight some areas of contention!

  • Your home – a check in here is borderline acceptable. Personally I don't do it but I wouldn't take offence against any of my friends who checked into their own home. Discussions around this point inevitably led to debates around the wider security implications of letting people know where you are and when you're not home. Lots to think about but given you could likely garner the same information from Facebook status updates or recent tweets its all a bit of a non-issue.
  • Train stations, bus garages, airports – this is fine as from the perspective to collecting data about where you've been this is all useful stuff. However I draw the line at checking into a specific platform, unless its platform 9¾!
  • Coffee shops, restaurants, bars – these are all clear yes's although there are some finer points which need to be considered. For example, on Friday two of my colleagues and I went for lunch. We fancied some jerk chicken so headed to Caribbean Lunches on Strutton Ground. We were a little late for lunch and whilst queuing I checked in. Reaching the counter we were told that there was only enough food left for two people, Ben and Jon had jerk chicken and I went off to get some other goodness from another place nearby. I didn't check in at the other second place as I'd already completed my lunchtime check in and didn't want to be accused of hoarding points! I'm not sure whether this is the right etiquette to follow?
  • The office – this is cool, however typically should only be done once a day. Going out to lunch and returning to the office doesn't warrant another check in! Exceptions to a once a day check in may be if you move between offices.
  • Shops – this is a tricky one. One of my general rules is to check into places of significant importance or a place where some form of social interaction may occur. Checking into a supermarket or a pharmacy may be frowned upon, however checking into somewhere like Magma, one of my book shops in London, is fine as friends who've seen this check in would likely ask what awesomeness was acquired in that trip.
  • Multiple checkings – similar to the office scenario there are certain times when checking into a single venue more than once in a day is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps you've met some friends in a bar, moved on for dinner and then return to the same bar later in the evening. This would warrant three legitimate check ins. However going to a bar, ducking out to visit an ATM and then returning to the bar should probably require just the one check in for the bar.
  • Dubious check ins – a statue walked passed en route home (ahem, Jon) or north-west corner of a park followed by south-east corner of the same park would be considered dodgy check ins.

Clearly this list is neither exhaustive nor is it official, its all a bit of fun. Standards for using the service will continue to adapt and evolve amongst groups, and new applications that utilise location data will open up exciting new possibilities. Lots to think about but right now I'm off to my local coffee shop to claim my mayorship!

Saturday
Jun182011

Self Hacking - Quantified Self

Earlier this week I went along to the Quantified Self London meet up. The London group is organised by Adriana Lukas and attracted some 40 or so people who were eager to understand more about the concept of self improvement through the analysis of habits, behaviours, and other personal data.

The meet up was run as a show and tell type session and we heard from four people with plenty of Q&A throughout. One of the experiences shared was from someone telling the story of how through capturing and monitoring his weight on a twice daily basis he was able to use that data as a tool to help encourage him to lose weight. Another was from someone who'd built an OSX application to allow you to track productivity - there were some reasonably complex algorithms in the application which ultimately allowed you to see a graph of the current day's productivity mapped against previous days.

Attendees of the meet up seemed to range from those who'd used the concept of collecting data about themselves to resolve problems or better their lifestyle, through to entrepreneurial types who were interested in building products and applications to assist in the collection and analysis of data. There were also a few people like me who'd really just come along to find out what it was all about.

I'd first heard the term Quantified Self through Gary Wolf's TED talk in September 2010 and feeling a little bit worried about what it meant to have all this personal information floating about. In the pub after the meet up the topic of where personal data should sit and the merits of making it available was discussed - it seemed that everyone felt that security and trust in who could see the data would be crucial in making the concept a success. If you missed the TED talk, it's at the bottom of the post.

After the meet up I began thinking about how I might benefit from Quantified Self. I remember a while ago, when I was a keen athlete (ha, the term 'athlete' to describe me now is laughable!) I used to meticulously monitor my heart rate during training sessions, plotting against it my mood, diet and external conditions such as weather and location. However being keen but still very much amateur this data tended to just sit on my computer as I had neither the time nor expertise to do anything with it.

Now my habits have changed, I've no idea where my heart rate monitor is any more, my once and sometimes twice a day training sessions have been replaced with things like work and going to gigs and hanging out with friends.

But I do still capture and monitor certain aspects of my life. For example – music that I listen to is scrobbled to my LastFM profile and places that I've been captured on Foursquare. Perhaps this falls more into a small element of Lifeblogging then that of Quantified Self? Either way I am still very much in the same situation I was with my heart rate data back in 1990s - the data is there but I'm not doing anything with it.

But maybe I should. Maybe in analysing the type of music I listen to when I'm at certain locations might reveal something? Or perhaps if I were to capture my mood, or a measure of daily productivity I'd be able to determine that say, listening to some Adebisi Shank on the way into work resulted in a more productive me? And maybe thats the difference between lifeblogging and Quantified Self, in the latter you are actually learning something from the data and doing something to make an improvement. When thinking of it like that the term "self hacking" (coined by Adriana) makes much more sense.

Of course analysing the music I listen to mapped against my mood would be of very little interest to anyone other than myself. But when you think of scenarios such as the one mentioned in the TED talk - monitoring the time and location of asthma inhaler pump usage - that could be of considerable interest. Especially if you imagined a scenario of all asthma suffers in London having their inhalers equipped with a GPS transceiver and each time a pump was used it appeared on a map to help articulate 'hot spots'.

This idea of making the information available is where Quantified Self gets interesting for me. In the same way that my training information was stuck, unshared, on my computer, if anyone is collecting data about themselves then by not sharing it they are missing out on some important opportunities - collective learning from others, contribution to a wider pool of knowledge and the encouragement and motivation they'd get from knowing others may also be monitoring what they're doing.

This is certainly an area I'm interested in learning more about, and if it sparks an interest with you I'd recommend taking a look at the Quantified Self website, and heading along to one of the meet ups.

Gary Wolf: Ted Talk on Quantified Self