In my current quest to collect more personal data around my activities to draw knowledge and information with the aim of achieving a better quantified self I’ve kept a lookout for apps and devices to help me. We’re currently about to enter an amazing time whereby we’ll shift our attention from the vast knowledge of the world’s data we can access on the web to wanting to learn more about our own body’s data. There’s currently a many sensing devices available, and many new ones being created, to track our physical activity, sleep, weight, and other personal body metrics. These are going to continue to evolve and provide us with more data about ourselves and the next step will be to help us learn and improve our lives with that information.
We’re a couple years into using location based services and Foursquare has pretty much become the de-facto standard. The thing about Foursquare is that it was created and is primarily a social location app meaning that you actively use it to both share and view your friends locations. While this is a great feature with many benefits the way it operates requires you to pro-actively mark your location manually to use it. When it comes to personal data tracking you want the ability to set it and forget it. It’s easy to become forgetful and can become burdensome to manually track personal data.
Location is an area where I’ve wanted to have a passive way to track my movements outside of having to manually do it by “checking in” on Foursquare. I recently became aware of a new app called Placeme (available for iOS & Android) which does just that. You simply run this app in the background and with your smartphone’s built in sensors (accelerometer, wifi, gps) it has the ability to mark your locations along your daily travels. It knows when you’re driving, walking, or staying still based on the phone’s sensors and with that data can accurately determine the locations you visit. It knows when you get there, and when you leave being able to track your duration at the location. It then builds a history where you can view locations you’ve visited by day in a calendar view, or you can view by location and see a log of all your visits. You can add notes for every visit logged to a location. You can also search your visited location history. The ability to track all of this data is a quantified selfer’s dream app for location as I haven’t found any other app that can do this passively.
The raw data stored by the location tracking aspects of the app are just the tip of the iceberg. We know that tracking personal data is just the first step towards analyzing it to find ways to improve our lives. Below is one of Robert Scoble’s patented long interviews that logs in at over 30 minutes with the the app’s creator Sam Liang. During the interview they discuss all of the possibilities that this app could provide through future functionality based on the location data. Robert discusses how the app crosses the “freaky line” because people that use the app are providing very private and sensitive information.
Most people have an aversion to apps that pass along this type of data but Sam points out in the video something that is key. If you can show a user significant value from providing the data, then you can get them to overcome that hurdle. An example of this could be that you frequent a gas station that is being tracked and Placeme could provide an alert letting you know that you could save money by pumping gas at a station 2 blocks away. In the video Robert eludes to the fact that the data stored by the app can be the basis for many other feature based apps. Watch the video to better understand all the things that could be possible. You can also visit this post that Robert made on Google Plus to see his take along with the 300+ comment discussion surrounding the app.
I’ve been using the app for almost a month and am very impressed. In fact I’ve found myself using Foursquare much less and only when I want to share my location with friends. However I love that I don’t have to do anything to have this running log of all my traveling that I can add to my other daily tracking data. I’m looking forward to updates to the app, primarily hoping there’s a way I can export the data at some point as in the near future I’m looking forward to aggregating all of my personal data by day within a single service. Several are going to come online soon and location data is a pertinent data point I’m looking forward to including.