January 23, 2012

Thinking about Quantified Awesome, meetups, and DemoCamp

January 23, 2012 - Categories: planning, quantified

So I’ve taken to calling my personal dashboard Quantified Awesome, and I even have the domain name for it. The name is fun, and it reminds me that this is data tracking for a reason: to live an even more awesome life. Right now, I use it for time, clothes, library books, fruits and vegetables, stuff, and measurements. I’ll add more as ideas come to me, and as I use the tools, I’ll flesh out the interface.

Quantified Self Toronto meetups have been fantastic for getting more ideas and for sharing what I’m working on with other people. I think this kind of tracking would be the kind of geeky thing that might be interesting for the DemoCamp Toronto crowd, too.

DemoCamp demos tend to be mostly startups, and I’m not at the point of turning this into a business yet. I remember they had lots of fun with my Livin’ la Vida Emacs talk, though, and I’d like to inspire people to apply their skills – programming, designing, whatever – to their own lives. I’d also love to connect with other people so that I can be inspired by their examples. People who are into this sort of thing in Toronto are probably already part of Quantified Self Toronto, though, so there may not be that much extra value in presenting something mainly for connection purposes. If I’m going to focus on either inspiring or collecting feedback, then, I want to make sure that people’s activation costs are low.

So, what would it take to get this to the point where I can create a lot of value in 10 minutes of demo and five minutes of Q&A? (Or if this is anything like my other talk, a short demo derailed by people anticipating jokes, turned into a general truth-is-funnier-than-fiction thing. =) )

I’d probably want to have lots of data driving lots of visualizations, because they’re easier to see on a big projected screen. If I build this up over a few months, I’ll have the data to let me ask interesting questions and report on behavioural changes, which will be really useful. I may want to shift from using RaphaelJS to using Protovis or a similar library for visualizations so that I can take advantage of the source code examples for a wide range of charts.

Another key thing would be to either allow other users or share the source code (maybe both! less hassle for helping people get started). That way, it’s not just about “Hey, this is cool! But you can’t use it unless you build your own.”

Opening this up to people will probably mean splitting my project time into development and support. It’s a trade-off: would the increased feedback be worth the support load? Depending on people and expectations (here there be bugs!), it might be okay. It might be a good idea to slow down and apply the same discipline we’re adopting on our work projects, too: test, test, test. I think it might be worth gradually opening this up over the next few months, with an eye towards demonstrating it at DemoCamp when I think it’ll help lots of people get started. It’s also highly likely that there’ll be a second Quantified Self conference, so that might be something good to plan for as well.

There are plenty of companies focused on making money by helping people track their life (health, mostly). Me, I want to be able to ask questions about life and figure out how to answer them, I want to inspire other people to try doing that too, and I eventually want to help build tools to make it easier for people to do so. Besides, it’s a great way to practice my development skills without giving in to the temptation to spend all that time on work instead. =)