My Search For the Perfect Quantified-Self App. Part 1 – Different Folks, Different Logs.
It may come as a surprise to you, but until this week I have been using paper and Google Spreadsheets to record and track my life data points. Considering proliferation of tracking devices and growing popularity of QS movement, you would expect that by now there should be at least two dozen of functional mobile apps out there that would let you log and track your generic life data “on-the-go”. At least I thought so when I started my search for a good tracking app almost two months ago. That search finally ended last week. Before I announce “the winners”, let me share some observations that have accumulated during this rather long and somewhat expensive endeavor. If you prefer to skip the intro part and learn the names of the “perfect” apps, you will have wait for the next post.
First, just be fair, let me describe the “perfect QS” app as I imagine it, using a typical quantified day in my life as an example:
Upon waking up, I open my perfect QS app, and rate the quality of my sleep on 1-10 scale by answering two questions. I also log whether I remember my dreams, and if I do, the average “pleasantness”, on a 10-point scale. I then weigh myself and take body fat measurements using my skinfold caliper; these measurements are also entered into my perfect QS app. After morning workout and shower, I eat breakfast and then enter into my perfect QS app essential nutritional data: weight, calories, amount of fat, carbs, and protein, cost and “gratification” (how much I enjoyed it). I then proceed to rating my mood (using 3 questions borrowed from Seth Roberts), mental and physical energy, self-esteem, and 20 other psychological variables, using 5-point and 10-point scales. While leaving the house, I log time of departure, and upon arrival to office, I log time of my commute. If I rode a bike to work that morning, I manually log the average speed and distance from my RunKeeper in my perfect QS app. As the day goes by, I use the same app again and again to record various psychological, behavioral and situational variables, each new record marked with a timestamp, each variable logged using either “yes/no”, number, or a 5-point or 10-point scale. At the end of the month, I use the export feature of my perfect QS app to transfer all these data into Excel spreadsheet, where I combine it with data from my BodyMedia, Heart Rate, Sleep Time and other apps and gadgets, and analyze and visualize the bits of information I need.
In my search, I turned to Apple app store (I have iPhone), and used keywords “log”, “logging”, “track”, “tracking”, “quantified”, quantified self”, “measure”, “record”, and “count”. The iphone section of the tools directory on the Quantified-Self website also proved to be very useful. The final list was promisingly long and had nearly 200 apps (185 to be exact). Just for fun, I created the “word cloud” out of the names:
Now, the first and the most important criteria for the perfect QS app is that it needs to be versatile when it comes to tracking things. In other words, I should be able to track anything: weight, time, mood, performance, etc., with potentially unlimited number of variables. While many apps claimed to be tools for “tracking anything and everything”, after a closer review, I ended up only with 11 that, in my opinion, could be considered truly versatile:
As you can see, most of the tracking and logging apps (94%) focus on a specific niche: diet, fitness, health, mood, finance, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing that at all. There are a lot of awesome apps out there that help us to track just a couple of things, and sometimes that’s all we need. In this particular case, however, I am interested in that single app that would en“winning” apps. Sable me to keep all my multiple logs in one place. Of course, in addition to versatility, this app should meet three other criteria. In the next post, I will discuss these criteria, and will finally reveal the tay tuned!