My Notes from 2013 Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco
A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2013 Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco. This was my very first QS conference, and I still feel overwhelmed. The program was full of amazing and inspiring presentations, engaging and thought-provoking “break out” sessions, and demo sessions for cutting edge QS products and services. I also got to meet a lot of interesting like-minded people, including some “movers and shakers” of the QS space and A LOT of readers of Measured Me blog. In today’s post, I will would like to offer a recap of some of the things that I found especially interesting.
There were two kinds of presentations at the conference: the plenary (attended by everyone) morning sessions and “Ignite” lunch talks, and “Show and Tell” talks that were running concurrently with other sessions and thus could be attended selectively. While I loved all presentations, I found the following talks to be especially inspiring and interesting:
In his “Doing Great Personal Experiments” talk Ian Eslick focused on major theoretical and practical differences between conventional clinical research and self-experimentation. Indeed, the two often have different goals (empirical verification of causation vs. personal decision support; measurement of “average” effects vs estimate of personal benefits), logistics (expensive and complex vs fast and cheap), and implementation of findings (generalization to population vs individual personalized treatment). Ian also highlighted some interesting challenges that self-experimenters face when it comes to analyzing their data. I especially liked the point about valuing personal significance of effects over statistical significance.
In “Achieving the Good Life via Positive Psychology-Based QS”, Jeff Fajans shared how he tracked his daily experiences based on four key concepts from positive psychology, and what he learned from it. Jeff used Personal Analytics Companion (PACO) to set up an experience sampling study in order to track two positivity states: vitality (operationalized by positive mood and high energy) and vital engagement (operationalized by flow and extent of work on a meaningful goal). At the same time, he was tracking his personal character strengths (as defined by VIA and Gallup systems), including Creativity, Achieve, Command, Honesty, Strategic, etc.). At the end of the experiment, Jeff looked at which of his character strengths are more likely to affect and predict each of the positivity states. I personally found this experiment very inspiring and will definitely like to replicate it in the future. It somewhat reminds me of my own experiments with happiness and personal values.
In “Accomplishing Goals with Genetics”, Ralph Pethica of Genetrainer used his personal examples to demonstrate how information from DNA analytic services like 23adnMe can be used to build personalized training plan and measure your progress toward fitness goals.
In his hilarious “30 Days of Rejection Therapy” presentation, Mark Moschel of AskMeEvery and Experimentable talked about his experiment in putting himself in awkward and often funny situations with the single goal to get rejected (e..g, by asking vendor to sell only one candy or asking for someone to give him a job). As a result, Mark was able to increase his confidence levels and become less afraid of uncomfortable social situations.
I also had a pleasure to share stage with Eric Jain of Zenobase, who discussed some interesting insights about his personal data in “Lies, Damn Lies, and Correlations”. One of the interesting conclusions made by Eric was that in investigating relationships in your own self-tracking data, the time scale often matters: sometimes, you need to wait for a couple of months before you see any correlations.
Breakout sessions are more interactive, unstructured sessions that you often see at the unconferences. These sessions were moderated by facilitators who engaged attendees in collaborative discussions around the topic of interest. Perhaps, the most interesting of them all was the “What Will Quantified Self look like in 10 and 100 years” session moderated by co-founder of QS movement Kevin Kelly. Guided by Mr. Kelly, we just let our imagination run wild, and envisioned fascinating yet scary world, in which people enjoy personalized medicine, media/retail services, continue living “digitally” after death, every citizen is a scientist and wellness is a new currency. At the same time, the evolution of QS has led to the scarcity of privacy (total surveillance; government has unlimited access to real time biometric and other individual data), lack of serendipity (everything is predictable, no one can be surprised anymore) and higher incidences of identity theft.
The “If You are Starting a QS Company ..” session, moderated by Mark Moschel of Experimentable , focused on challenges that entrepreneurs face when starting a business or a product in QS space. Among the major concerns identified by attendees were ability to scale and standardization and openness of data. While discussing the issues with scaling, I was genuinely surprised to learn that most entrepreneurs would like to focus on a general market, as opposed to pursuing a more narrow target niche. I personally think that by hoping to become the “next Facebook or Google”, they are missing on a more realistic and not necessarily less lucrative opportunities. It is my belief that when it comes to Quantified Self, it is better to target a small but dedicated group of consumers. With regard to standardization of data, the main concern was how to offer most reliable yet universally acceptable metrics. Unfortunately, most companies choose to go with their own proprietary metrics (think Zeo’s ZQ, NIke’s “fuel”, various definitions of “step”, etc.) that are often cannot be compared to others . Finally, some attendees raised concerns about not being able to offer their users connectivity to other devices and apps. Most of the time, data collected by tracking apps and devices remains “locked” in the vaults of the providers. One proposed solution was to rely on data aggregation services (e.g., Project Addapp, Fluxtream, Tic Trac). I suggested that one of the business models for the aggregation companies could be offering “comparability” services (e.g., converting Nike fuel scores to Fitbit activity scores) and acting as negotiators between the companies when it comes to building custom cross-platform metrics (e.g, if someone would like to use morning/afternoon/evening Bodymedia data in their app, as opposed to total daily score).
Products and Services
There were a lot of awesome gadgets, apps and services that I would love to get my hands on or to add to my Measured Me inventory.
The Airo wristband could be the first wearable device that tracks not only stress, sleep and activity, but also calorie intake. The built-in spectroscope analyzes the content of your meals as it breaks down in your blood, and estimates the amount of calories that you consume throughout the day. I can’t wait to get hands on this gadget, which is supposed to hit the market at the end of next year.
The OMsignal shirt is a futuristic looking t-shirt that continuously tracks your biometric signals, providing you with real-time information about your heart and respiratory rates, activity levels and caloric expenditure, HRV, EKG, stress and emotional state. The OMSignal smart apparel will be available to consumers next year.
The TrueSense kit is an affordable (~48 USD), DIY ultra-compact wearable device that enables you to capture and record major biometric signals. If you are considering building your own homemade Zeo or Fitbit, TrueSense kit may be your best bet.
The warm bluish glow of the Bodymetrics pod attracted a lot of attendees, including myself. The 3D body-mapping scanner captures hundreds of body measurements in matter of a few seconds. The requirement of stripping down to my undies did not stop me from trying it out, and I found the whole measurement experience to be very convenient and fun. I hope to see one of their pods in my NYSC gym soon!
It was a pleasure to meet in person Ernesto Ramirez, Steven Jonas and Whitney Erin Boesel, organizers of QS Conference and major contributors to Quantified Self.com.
I finally had a chance to shake hands with Mr. Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Quantified Self movement and author of the famous What Technology Wants book. His new book, largely based on his popular Cool Tools blog, is coming out soon. A couple of reviews in that book, by the way, have been borrowed from Measured Me blog.
As a long time fan of Bulletproof Executive blog, I was excited to meet and chat with Dave Asprey himself. I can also personally attest that Dave stays true to his diet: I was sitting next to him while he ate entire smoked salmon fillet for lunch.
My good buddy Mikko Ikola of QUantified Self Finland and Ambro was there; check out Ambro and their organic alternative to Soylent.
I had wonderful time hanging out with cool and funny Mark Moschel of AskMeEvery. Check out his awesome Experimentable blog, which I have been reading for a while now.
Matthew Lewis and I have been exchanging email since my posts about building the perfect quantified self app . Matthew has developed Quantid Quantid, awesome app for manual logging that can be also linked to other devices and apps (including Bodymedia, Withings, CNS Tap Test and Instant Heart Rate Inc.) .
I also had a chance to catch up with Bob Troia who often writes his own self-tracking experiments at QuantifiedBob.com. Bob has recently appeared in PBS feature on Quantified Self movement.
Special shout out to Nick Winter of Quantified Mind, Roland Gaber, Maarten Den Braber, Kouris Kalligas of ProjectAdapp, Jeff Fajans, Ralph Pethica of Genetrainer, Eric Jain of Zenobase , DJ Wetmore of SelfEcho.com, Bill Schuller and Nick Alexander, and many other awesome people that I met at the conference.
Finally, I would like to thank Gary Wolf, Ernesto Ramirez, Steven Jonas and other organizers for putting together such a great and inspiring conference!