Personal Informatics Blog

Self-Tracking Tools Review 3


I wrote and posted this article originally on the Quantified Self blog on November 15, 2010.

In this review, I will take the considerations that I wrote about in my last article to analyze some self-tracking tools. The considerations are: 1) What questions are the tool answering? 2) How is the data collected? and 3) How do you reflect on the data? I'm also adding a fourth consideration, data portability, as suggested by Jason Bobe .

Track Your Happiness

Track Your Happiness is a research project by Matthew Killingsworth who works in Dan Gilbert's lab in Harvard. The research project gives you the tools to find the factors in your life that leads to greater happiness. According to the site, the tool will produce a report that "will show how your happiness varies depending on what you are doing, who you are with, where you are, what time of day it is, and a variety of other factors." I used the tool for a month and the report showed me the correlation of sleep quality and quantity on my happiness and other factors such as how focused I am, whether I'm doing something I want to vs. have to, and how productive I am.

Collection. The way that Track Your Happiness collects information is via your iPhone or smart phone. The site sends you a random text message three times a day (the frequency is editable). The text message contains a link to a web page which has a form that asks you various questions about how happy you are and what is currently happening with you. After completing the form, you get a graph that gives you a taste of the full report; the graph shows you the correlation (so far) between your happiness and a randomly-selected factor. This was a nice addition because it encourages you to keep inputting data as the study progresses 1.

Reflection. At the end of a month of data collection, Track Your Happiness will produce a report with graphs of the correlations between different factors and your happiness. Despite enduring a whole month of interruptions from the text messages and answering the questionnaire, the whole experience was worth it for the report. The report is very easy to read despite the sheer amount of data that was collected about me in a month. In my report, the correlation between my happiness and my sleep quality/quantity was very strong.

Data Portability. The graphs in the report are printable. Even after a year of seeing my report, I could still access it by logging in. Unfortunately, the individual data points that I recorded are not available.


Mint is a web site for tracking your finances. But unlike tracking your finances from your bank web site, Mint gives you the tools to track your finances from multiple accounts, such as your bank, credit card, loans, even investments. With Mint, you'd be able to get a holistic view of your finances from month to month and answer questions, such as where are you spending your money? Are you spending too much on non-essentials? Are you reaching your budget goals?

Collection. The collection of financial data is already done by the accounts; your banks, credit cards, and investments already have records of your financial transactions. What Mint does is gather all this information from multiple sources into a single service. The setup is quite easy. You provide your account information and Mint handles the transferring of data from your multiple accounts. At this point, you might be weary about security, but the Mint folks have taken good measures to protect your account information .

Reflection. Mint automatically categorizes your transactions and provides various visualization tools to help you analyze where you are spending your money. First, Mint provides a graphic that shows how you are doing with your budget for the month. The graphic is very easy to use and can be viewed at-a-glance. Second, Mint provides visualization timelines and pie charts, so you can explore your financial history over a long period of time and view specific details of your transactions. Lastly, Mint sends alerts and messages to inform you of pending payments, low balances, and opportunities to save.

Data portability. Mint does not provide an API to get your financial data directly from them. However, there are several ways to get your financial data:

  1. You can go to each of your financial institutions and download the data from them directly.
  2. Yodlee , a financial data aggregation company, provides tools to developers to make applications that use data from financial institutions. Yodlee served as a backend to Mint. However, since the Intuit acquision of Mint, I don't know if Yodlee is still Mint's backend provider. Yodlee provides a service called Yodlee MoneyCenter that is similar to what Mint offers.

Wrap up

These reviews have been quite lengthy, so, for readability's sake, I will only talk about two today. Then, I will review two more tools this week. Again, please leave comments below regarding your experiences with the tools I mentioned.


1 I've actually done a study that shows that having visualizations while collecting data helps with keeping the user actively collecting data ( view paper | citation ).

Why Should You Self-Track?


I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on November 13, 2010.

If you’re new to this blog or new to the idea of self-tracking, you’re probably wondering why? Why should you self-track? This is a valid question. Self-tracking might cost you a few bucks and might require a long time commitment. Why should you spend your time and money to self-track? In this article, I will describe several reasons why you should self-track.

Know thyself

On the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, carved in stone was the inscription Gnothi seauton. This Greek aphorism means “Know thyself.” People of Ancient Greece who wanted to see the Oracle to solve their problems would see this phrase first upon arrival as if to tell them that the solution to their problem is right under their noses; you just need to know yourself. This phrase and the concept of self-knowledge was passed on from Ancient Greece to now as an ideal in philosophy. Of course, self-knowledge not that easy. Careful introspection and reflection is required to know oneself. However, today we can use technology to help us a little bit in our effort to know ourselves. Self-tracking tools can help us observe and analyze our behavior and habits that can be sensed and tracked by devices.

Benjamin Franklin

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was an avid self-tracker? In his twenties, Benjamin Franklin wrote 13 virtues that he believed leads to a good, productive life. These virtues were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He strived to live by these virtues. To do so, he tracked his adherence to the virtues. At the end of each day, he marked the virtues that he missed. In the example, he missed the virtues of sincerity, order, and resolution on Friday. He did this for the rest of his life and I think he had plenty to show for it.

If you want to track your accomplishment of these 13 virtues, join the self-tracking web site that I created, Be Like Ben Just click the link and join!


There’s plenty of research that shows the value of self-tracking on changing behavior. For example, pedometers have been shown to increase physical activity among wearers. The graphs of your electricity usage in your electricity bill is a result of research that shows the value of such graphs on energy conservation. Among diabetes patients, tracking their blood sugar level is an important aspect of their diabetes maintenance. If you want to find more research about self-tracking, visit the Personal Informatics Articles page . This page lists the many research papers relevant to self-tracking.

If you have your own reasons why you self-track, please leave them in the comments below.

Self-Tracking Tools Review 2


I wrote and posted this article originally on the Quantified Self blog on November 8, 2010.

This is the second article of a series where I review several self-tracking tools. I will go on a little tangent this week. To make it clear what I look for in different tools, I will discuss the different aspects of self-tracking tools to consider when making a selection. These considerations are based on my own experience tracking myself, feedback from users of tools that I've built, and from my research in human-computer interaction and personal informatics .

First thing to consider is what question about yourself are you trying to answer and would the self-tracking tool collect the right data to answer your question. For example, you might be interested in losing some weight. Your first thought might be to get a pedometer to start tracking your daily step counts. However, your physical activity (or lack thereof) is only one of the factors that might be causing your weight gain; your diet, how busy you are, stress, and other aspects of your lifestyle may also contribute. Determining what information to collect is critical because you will be spending significant time during the next week or two collecting data. You want your collected data to be full of insight. Here are some web pages to help you:

The second thing to consider is how you want to collect the data. Data collection is one of the most time-consuming aspects of self-tracking, so you want to pick the tool that works best with your time constraints and comfort level. The following are some of the properties of devices or services relevant to data collection.

  • Is the data manually-collected or automatically-collected? For example, your bank account and credit card history are automatically-collected. Mint and Quicken leverage these data and add another level of automation by combining all of your accounts into one interface. On the other hand, there are many many financial tools that require you to manually enter data, such as MoneyBook , GnuCash .
  • Do you have to wear or carry a device? This aspect is probably domain-specific. You don't need to wear a device to track your spending, moods, and electricity usage, but tracking physiological data such as physical activity, heart rate, blood sugar level, etc. require wearing devices everyday. Having to wear a device requires considering comfort, visibility, and robustness of the device. To illustrate the differences between devices, I will describe some physical activity tools with varying degrees of wearability:
    • Heart rate monitors - These devices provide plenty of specific data about physical exertion, but you have to wear them around your chest, so you probably wouldn't wear them all day. These devices are usually worn by serious athletes while training.
    • Bodymedia SenseWear armband - This device also provides plenty of specific data about physical activity. You have to wear the device around your biceps, so it's very noticeable even when wearing a long-sleeve shirt. This is another tool that you won't wear all day long, but would be useful during training times.
    • iPod nano - I mentioned this device in my last review . Its small form factor is ideal for tracking your physical activity all day. The device might still be noticeable clipped to your shirt or to your pants pocket, but it's not too bothersome because many people carry their music players with them.
    • Fitbit - This is the device that is probably the most inconspicuous of the 4 devices mentioned here. The device is even smaller than the iPod nano and can be easily hidden. Additionally, synching your data online is done automatically just by being near the Fitbit base station.
  • Are you prompted to collect data? Most web sites where you manually collect data is voluntary. You visit the site on your own time and manually enter your data. If you want to minimize interruptions in your life, you may want this, but you definitely risk having sparse data. Some services provide alerts to prompt you to record. To illustrate the difference, I will use two mood tracking services: MoodJam and . With MoodJam, you have to remember to go to the web site to record your mood. On the other hand, sends you an SMS message 3-5 times a day. Since TrackYourHappiness is also a study that requires participation over several weeks, you will need to be patient with the service.

The last thing to consider is how you want to reflect on the data. There are different ways in which you can reflect on your data. The tool can provide visualizations or the tool can be more proactive by sending you alerts with suggestions and tips on what you should do. Here are some questions to ask about this aspect of tools (I will use electricity tracking tools to describe each aspect):

  • Does the tool provide the necessary views into your data, so you can keep aware of what's happening with you right now? For example, Kill-A-Watt has a display, so you can immediately see how much electricity an appliance is using.
  • Does the tool provide the necessary visualizations to help you explore your data deeply and find insights into your data? Kill-A-Watt does not provide visualizations, but Holmes , the companion tool to Wattson , has visualizations to allow you to look at trends and patterns of your electricity usage over the past 28 days.
  • Does the system provide alerts, suggestions, and tips based on your data? In addition to helping you track your energy consumption, WattzOn allows you to compare and discuss your energy consumption with others. The energy consumption tracking is not automated like Wattson, but the community aspect is helpful in getting suggestions and tips on how to reduce energy consumption.

I'm sure there are more things to consider when self-tracking, but this should be a good list to start with when starting your self-tracking regimen. Leave notes in the comments section for other considerations that you think are important.

More information


Ian Li is a PhD candidate in Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University . His research is on HCI and personal informatics . He is the creator of various self-tracking tools, such as: , Grafitter , MoodJam , Be Like Ben , and DeliciousDiscovery .

Self-Tracking Tools Review 1


I wrote and posted this article originally on the Quantified Self blog on November 1, 2010.

This is the first part of a series in which I will review several self-tracking tools. For each tool, I will highlight the features of the tool to help you track and explore data about yourself. There are two goals for these reviews: 1) we want to help users find the right tools for them; and 2) we want to encourage sharing of experiences with these different tools.


Zeo is a sleep tracking device, which has two parts. First, there is a black headband that you wear around your head while you sleep. This headband contains the sleep sensors. From my own experience, the headband is comfortable to wear. Second, there is the base station that stores the data from the headband. The base station also serves as the primary way to see your data. In big digital letters, the display shows your personal sleep score or ZQ score and the amount of time you were in REM sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. The base station can store your ZQ score for two weeks. If you want to look at your data in depth, the Zeo allows you to upload your data to your computer, where you can use visualizations to explore your data. To do this, you have to take the SD card from the base station and transfer the files to your computer. This can be tedious if you must do it everyday, but acceptable if you only want to look at your data on your computer once a week. The display in the base station is usually sufficient for getting a daily sense of your sleep quality. In addition to using Zeo as a way to track your sleep quality, you can also use it as a smart alarm clock. The Zeo will wake you up at you "natural awakening point" based on your sleep patterns.

More info:


iPod nano

I don't know how many people know this, but iPod nanos have a built in pedometer. Using an iPod nano for step counting has several benefits. First, since most people carry their iPods all day, they can track their step counts all day. Second, the iPod nano's small form factor is not a bother to wear. Just clip it on and you will hardly notice it throughout the day. Lastly, you can even keep listening to music all day while you're exercising and the battery will still last all day.

Unlike the Nike+iPod sport kit, you don't have to buy a specialized Nike shoe with an insert. However, if you already have a Nike+iPod sport kit, you can also use the kit with your iPod nano. At the end of the day when you're done tracking your step counts, you can upload all your data to the Nike+ web site where you can set your daily step goals and check your progress. The web site also has social networking features, so you can share your physical activity information with your friends.

More info:


Foursquare and WhereDoYouGo

FourSquare is a service that makes it easy for you to track the places that you go. You can "check-in" to places that you visit using your mobile phone, such as the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. Foursquare describes itself as "a friend finder, a social city guide, and a game that challenges users to experience new things and rewards them for doing so."

Did you know you can also use Foursquare to learn which places you frequent the most? Foursquare itself doesn't have the interface to explore your location data, but Steven Lehrburger has created such an interface. Steven created WhereDoYouGo , a web site that visualizes your FourSquare checkins using heat maps. Heat maps are visualizations that use color to indicate frequency of visits to a particular location. Using WhereDoYouGo, you can easily find which places you frequent most often on a map. To use, just visit the site and follow the authentication process. While it's a litttle complicated because you have to authenticate twice using Google and Foursquare, the visualization is worth it. When you generate your visualizations, check which neighborhood you "check-in" the most. Is it what you expected? Check for the outliers. Which places did you go that is off the beaten path? From what you see, which places do you think you should visit next? You can also share your visualizations by sharing the links generated by the service.

For developers who are interested in the how the service was created, Stephen has graciously provided the code on GitHub .

review1-foursquare-wheredoyougo.png and LastHistory is a music recommendation web site, but it's also a great way to track your music listening habits. has even created a word for the activity of tracking the music that you listen to: scrobbling. When you install's Scrobbler application, you can track the music that you listen to iTunes, Winamp, and even on your iPhone and Android phones. provides an RSS feed, so you can share the music that you listened to recently. doesn't provide an interface for you to explore your listening behavior in depth, but there are several tools that developers have created, which you can find at In this review, I will highlight LastHistory, a desktop application that visualizes your music listening histories from Unfortunately, the application is only available on the Mac OS X. The application creates an interactive visualization to help you explore your past music listening patterns combined with your own photos and calendar entries. The tool has two modes: Analysis and Personal. In Analysis mode, you can look at your history in three dimensions: time, tracks, and genres. You can search, highlight, zoom, and get detailed information about your history. In Personal mode, you can explore your data along with your iPhoto library and calendar entries from iCal. This mode can help you reminisce about your past in more detail.

For developers who are interested in building applications with, there is an API to access user data .

More info:



Ian Li is a PhD candidate in Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University . His research is on HCI and personal informatics. He is the creator of various self-tracking tools, such as: , Grafitter , MoodJam , Be Like Ben , and DeliciousDiscovery .

Finding Personal Insights from Social Websites


I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on October 11, 2010.

Many people use social web sites, such as Twitter, Foursquare, Delicious, and People use these sites to connect with their friends, broadcast their interests, and share information. These web sites make it easy to collect information about oneself and automatically share it with other people. Every day thousands of personal data are collected and shared throught these web sites. But did you know that you can take your data from these web sites and visualize them for introspection. In this article I will describe four visualization tools that take data from popular social web sites to help people learn more about themselves.

TwitterAnalyzer and TweetPsych for Twitter

Twitter is a popular micro-blogging site where you can post status updates about various events and interests. Various web sites exist to help you analyze your tweets. TwitterAnalyzer is an easy-to-use web site where you can see graphs about our tweeting behavior. Just enter your Twitter name in the home page and the site generates graphs about your tweet frequency, conversations, popularity, reach, subjects, hashtag usage, and links. TweetPsych is another easy-to-use web site similar to TwitterAnalyzer, but it generates a different set of graphs. TweetPsych analyzes the psychological profile of your tweets compared to other people’s tweets. It generates a graph according several dimensions, such as self-references, sociality, time usage, anxiety, positivity, conceptuality, etc.



WhereDoYouGo for FourSquare

FourSquare is a web site where you can track the places that you go. WhereDoYouGo is a web site created by Steven Lehrburger that visualizes your FourSquare checkins using heat maps. Heat maps are visualizations that use color to indicate frequency of visits to a particular location. Using WhereDoYouGo, you can easily find which places you frequent most often on a map. The authentication process is more complicated than the other tools featured in this article (WhereDoYouGo requires authentications with both Google and FourSquare), but the results are worth it!


LastHistory for is a web site that makes it easy for you to track the music that you listen to. LastHistory is a desktop application (only for Mac OS X) that visualizes your music listening histories from The application creates an interactive visualization to help you explore your past music listening patterns combined with your own photos and calendar entries. The tool has two modes: Analysis and Personal. In Analysis mode, you can look at your history in three dimensions: time, tracks, and genres. You can search, highlight, zoom, and get detailed information about your history. In Personal mode, you can explore your data along with your iPhoto library and calendar entries from iCal. This mode can help you reminisce about your past in more detail.


DeliciousDiscovery for Delicious

Delicious is a social bookmarking site. DeliciousDiscovery is a web site that takes your Delicious bookmarks collection and visualizes it by tags and month. With this tool, you can see how your interests are reflected by the web sites that you bookmark and how they change from month to month. To use, just enter your Delicious username and you will get your visualization!


Featured image modified from an image by David Reece.

Using Google Services to Self-Track


I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on September 17, 2010.

Google provides many services. Everyday, you probably use at least one of Google’s many products. But did you know that you can also use Google services for self-tracking. If you don’t, I’ll introduce you to 4 Google services to assist you with your self-discovery. Note that for services mentioned below, you must have a Google account and logged in to use them.

Google Web History

Since search is Google’s main service, I will start with Google Web History, a Google service to track trends in your searches. Google Web History automatically stores your Google searches and the search results that you pick. You can also expand your history to web activity, but I will only talk about search history. To see your history, visit The service provides 3 ways to look at your history:

  • List view that you can search. This is a good way to track forgotten searches.
  • Calendar view. The calendar view has green markings for each date that indicates how many searches you did for that month. If you have time, you can take screenshots of the calendars and stitch them together, like what See-ming Lee did.
  • Trend view. With this view, you can look at your top queries, top sites, and top clicks. You can also see graphs of your search activity by hour, day, and months.

Monthly and Daily Search Activity in Google Web History

Google Health

Google Health came out around two years ago to help people easily track their medical information. Recently, they released a new update to the site to help people more easily track their health and wellness data. New features include 1) integrating easily with sensor devices, such as Fitbit and CardioTrainer; 2) tracking your progress toward your health goals; and 3) taking notes and keeping a journal of your progress. Obviously, the data is not automatically collected unlike Google Web History. Regardless, the site provides graphs and visualizations to make it easier for you to track your health.

Image from A Google Health Update

Graph Your Inbox Chrome extension for Gmail

If you search using Google, you probably also check your mail using Google. Recently, Bill Zeller created a Chrome extension called Graph Your Inbox that ”allows you to graph your Gmail activity over time.“ You must install Google Chrome to use the extension. Once installed, the extension allows you to see your inbox in graph form to discover trends in your email usage.

Image from Graph Your Inbox by Bill Zeller

Other tools to try

  • Google Location History – Track your location over time.
  • Google PowerMeter – This service helps you track your energy consumption online. The service is currently only available in limited places. Check the web site for availability in your area.
  • Self-tracking apps on Google Android – The Google Android mobile platform has many mobile apps to help you self-track.

I encourage you try these different ways of using Google for self-tracking. Leave comments and describe your experiences with these tools.

Try Self-Tracking for a Week


I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on August 12, 2010.

If you’re new to self-tracking, you’re probably asking the following things: why should you do it and how might it benefit you? You can take the words of the Ancient Greeks regarding self-knowledge: 1) The imperative statement “Know thyself.” is carved on the facade of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi; 2) Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” and 3) Aristotle said “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.“ If you remain unconvinced, I urge you to try self-tracking for a week. In this post, I will describe activities you can try and some inspirations to get you started.

There are many problems preventing people to self-track. Three major problems are 1) self-tracking takes too much time; 2) self-tracking costs too much money; and 3) self-tracking requires too much commitment for a small benefit. The following are some solutions to these problems.

You probably think that you have to record several things about yourself several times every day to get the benefit of self-tracking. Instead of doing all this work, take the time at the beginning or end of each day to write a few things about yourself. For example, suppose you want to improve your sleeping pattern; you want to sleep earlier, so you get more sleep. First thing to do is place a piece of paper next to your bed. Write the dates for the next seven days on each line. Each day, write down when you go to bed, when you wake up, and the total sleep time. At the end of the week, see if there is a correlation between your day activities and your sleep.

You probably think that you have to buy expensive equipment to record your activities. However, there are many free or cheap options to get you started with self-tracking. You don’t have to buy a device to self-track. There are many free services on the web, e.g., Mint (spending), RescueTime (productivity), MoodJam (mood), and The Daily Plate (nutrition). Check out Personal Informatics Tools for more services. If you still need a device, there are many cheap options. For example, you can buy simple pedometers ranging from $5 to $15. If you’re interested in becoming more active, you can try this for a week. Get a simple pedometer. At the end of each day, write down your total steps and how you feel. At the end of the week, see if there is a correlation between physical activity and mood.

Lastly, you probably think that self-tracking requires too much commitment for a small benefit. As I have described, you only need a week of simple self-tracking to gain some benefit. You don’t have to commit hours of time or hundreds of dollars to see the value of self-tracking. Here is another example of what you can try. Suppose you’re wondering about your productivity. Use a free program that tracks the applications that you use, e.g., RescueTime, Slife Web, and Wakoopa. Write down your productivity between 1 (very unproductive) to 5 (very productive) at the end of each day. At the end of the week, look at the top applications you used and see how they correlate with your productivity.

Good luck with your one-week self-tracking! Leave comments with your experience.

Preparing to Self-Track


I wrote and posted this article originally on the HealthTap blog on August 3, 2010.

So you’re interested in self-tracking. A doctor or a physical trainer may have urged you to track your behavior or habit over time. Or you may be trying to achieve a goal, such as eating healthier food, drinking less sugary drinks, or walking more often. Or you may just be curious about your own behavior and habits. Self-tracking can help you gain an understanding of yourself, so that you can make better decisions about how to change or maintain a behavior. In any case, there are three questions that you want to answer to start your self-tracking regimen. Proper preparation for self-tracking is important because you will have to invest some time tracking your behavior. Picking the information to answer your questions will go a long way to make your self-tracking worthwhile and insightful.

First, you have to identify what about yourself you want to answer. There are different aspects of yourself that you might be curious about. These aspects are physical, mental/emotional, social, and environmental. The following are questions that you might ask for each aspect:

  • Physical (your physiological signs). How active am I? How well am I sleeping?
  • Mental/emotional (your inner thoughts and feelings). How happy am I? Does exercise improve my mood?
  • Social self (your interactions with others). How often do I talk with people important to me? Do I communicate effectively with others?
  • Environmental (your immediate surroundings). Where do I spend my time most often? How does the weather affect me?

Second, you have to find the correct type of information you need to collect to answer your questions. Some questions require simple information. For example, if you’re curious about how active you are, you might track the types of exercises that you do and for how long. You may also track the number of steps you take using a pedometer [1]. Some questions require more complex information. For example, if you’re curious about how well you’re sleeping, you might need to track your deep and REM sleep, which would require more advanced devices, such as Zeo and SleepTracker [2]. To guide you through finding the correct type of information to collect, read about the behavior or habit you want to track to find out more about the types of information that are relevant. You can also visit the Quantified Self to read articles about what information people track about themselves.

Lastly, you have to decide how you’re you going to track the information. The following are the different ways you can track yourself.

  • Write in a notebook or a form. This is the easiest way to start self-tracking. At the end of each day, record the date and something about yourself, e.g., your overall mood, your weight, whether you’re active or not. You can also use a form to help you structure the data that you record. You can download forms at D*I*Y Planner for health and diet.
  • Use a web site or mobile phone application. There are many web sites and mobile applications that you can use to track your behavior and habits. You can find an extensive list of web sites and applications at the Personal Informatics Tools site. The following are some examples of tools that you can use:
  • Wear a device. There are many devices in the market that you can wear or carry with you to track your physical information. These devices will automatically collect information about you, such as the number of steps you take (pedometers), your heart rate (heart rate monitors), your sleep quality (sleep trackers), your location (GPS monitors), etc. These devices cost money, but they will make your self-tracking easier.
  • Install a desktop application. There are also applications on the desktop to track your computer usage. These applications may give you insight on how you use your time and how productive you are.

Use the questions above to help you start your self-tracking. Answering the right questions, picking the right information to answer those questions, and deciding on how you track the information will make your self-tracking more insightful and worthwhile.


  1. Top 9 Best Pedometers
  2. The Science of Sleep: 5 Tech Tools to Track And Improve Your Sleep

Live Blogging at the CHI 2010 Personal Informatics Workshop


These were notes written by Katarzyna Wac during the CHI 2010 Personal Informatics Workshop.

9 AM: Welcome everybody!
  • Seems to be we have an excellent day ahead! 3 minutes of madness & discussion sessions and coffee breaks for informal discussions.
  • Let us have fun!
9 - 10:30AM: Madness!
  • Pedro has been quite stressful along his madness talk & we could watch it on his mobile ! we shall all be getting such system ;-) maybe @ next CHI ? and see how stressful CHI is for all of us?
  • Albert proposed that we shall be more proactive using information already available about us in the network / all personal history. So - shall we dive into our past ? would we like to share it too ...?
  • Digital preservation of personal information is very important, wish more tools are available out there. Thank you Reza!
  • Everybody can find something useful for himself/herself - say Salud! for the new personal health information system by Yevgeniy, dig into your tweets with help of Nathan or reflect on your printing patterns using Imprint of Zachary. It is getting interesting to experiment with all the tools at hand. ready for a journey ?
  • Dominikus suggests that our music history says a lots about our personality, so ...what do you listen to right now? ;-)
  • Ideas ideas ideas...and Leo with Google API will help us to pull it all together!
11:08 AM: Cool demos!
  • Poyozo (by Brennan) can visualize different your life bits 'own your bits' 'love your bits' & 'paint your bits' and 'paint your events'
  • Dunbar (by Sudheendra) - email browsing tool, along tags, diary, flipping through results, search links
Questions raised:
  • How can it help us in self-awareness?
  • What benefits are of use of this information? 
  • How would you like to visualize it?
11:30 AM - 12:30 PM: Discussion on stages of personal informatics system development and their challenges

Groups 1 and 3. Collection of Data
  • expected values (perceived cost/benefits for an user)
  • recording everything & filtering information, what is 'everything' anyway?
  • is it recording all neuron system inputs - whole brain state and its external state
  • how to use collection tools
  • what is your target group
  • viewing content for digital artifacts to show importance
  • different data format
  • accessibility of sensors : hardware/software e.g. sensors in OS of mobile phone
  • need for cheaper, easy configurable HW (own development? vs off-the-shelf?)
  • accuracy of sensory input, its resolution and sensitivity for a change
  • reliability of sensors (especially when sensors deployed in field)
  • lifetime of battery (at least for a duration of a study)
  • easy to use, usable, wearable, non-intrusive
  • speed/delay decision for a collection of data: real-time vs non-real time / local vs remote log
  • generalization of results acquired with different collection mechanisms
Group 2. Collection-Reflection
  • creating narratives from data
  • motivation for collection
  • difficulty of aggregating data e.g. health-related
  • use of data (productivity?)
  • expert knowledge, how to create a readable visualization
  • what would drive self-reflection
Group 4. Reflection
  • active exploration by user or passive by the system
  • take user vs designer perspective
  • what is the value of reflection? what can you do with it? reflection<-> action cycle
  • reflection as a way to form/express thyself: authenticity and confrontation
  • social aspects and sharing of data going beyond personal reflection (includes lying)
  • there are personal differences in terms of interest in data
  • controversial case study website: check-out at home as an 'invitation' for robbing me
12:30 - 2PM: Networking lunch
Many fancy ideas have been generated over typical hamburgers :-)

2 PM: Demo
  • Demo of sensor-system (by Youn-Kyung Lim) installed in user houses, including RFID-reader, flex sensor, that encourages users to be creative in proposing of new applications based on data acquired by these sensors
  • Demo of music usage visualization (by Dominikus) a) without a time variable without a repetition of the song b) with time variable - songs clustered in sessions c) with time variable and with multiple sessions for multiple users - visualization of gender
  • Demo of personal experience trace on a personal device (by Albrecht), creating hierarchies of e.g. folders
  • Demo of Salud! system (by Yevgenly) that enables tracing of designer-specified data and development of new services for personal informatics; encouragement to use existing APIs
2:30 PM - 3.30 PM: Proposals of personal informatics system : discussion

Proposal 1 - Knowing yourself through the mirror of others

  • collection: manual vs automatic, anonymous; collection of photos, tags, notes, environmental and context sensors (sound, gaze, smells, light) that enable reconstruct world as seen from my point of view
  • reflection: health? starting conversation with somebody else sharing same point of view as me, public displays, enabling self-discovery and strengthening relationships in community (neighbors, family, friends)

Proposal 2 - Watching my media consumption as a reflection on my social life

  • TV: live, recorded, genres who? on which devices? with whom? where? when?
  • we may need different levels of metadata collected during consumption: explicit info, tagged by producer, by us, re-blogged in channels, and we may need different pattern recognition techniques to derive sensible metadata
  • we may derive novel information about ourselves e.g. media consumption anxiety

Proposal 3 - Watch your (Google) searches along changing context

  • Watch the searches and derive higher-level context from what is searched

Proposal 4 - System enabling user-generated metrics to be quantified and scores shared with social network
  • enable user to abstract from (raw) data
  • user defines metrics
  • selective granularities of information with selected groups of people
  • score everything with points (user-defined); make it a game
  • normalize metrics across users (maybe with help of users: collaborative normalization)
  • facilitate comparison of user performance
  • make applications in different domains (energy consumption, nutrition tracking, stress level tracking)
  • support the identification of possible 'changes' (action points), face the challenge and score more points!
  • implement system as a continuos loop of collection-reflection-changes along increasing self-awareness while bringing new areas of life into process of collection of data; goal: never ending, self-propelling improvement loop, system is instrumental to it - provides data for reflection and change and because of social aspect+ game aspect - is motivating enough that user keep using it
Questions raised: 
  • To what extend is collected data adding to our life?
  • Is the purpose only to discover unusual relationships between events or activities we were not aware of?
  • Maybe data is so sparse that discovering those relationships is not even feasible?
  • Can we always discover in automatic way or we need user's 'expert' knowledge about own life?
  • Is data collected in the past helping us to say something about out current state (e.g. in terms of health, based on past actions and habits)?

Results of the Personal Informatics Survey


I wrote and posted this article originally on the Quantified Self blog on February 09, 2010.

In the summer of 2009, I posted a survey of personal informatics tools on The Quantified Self, Flowing Data, and forums at personal informatics sites like Slife and MoodJam. Many people participated describing their experiences using existing tools to track and reflect on personal information. The survey helped us develop a model to describe personal informatics systems (Figure 1). The model is a series of five stages (Preparation, Collection, Integration, Reflection, and Action) with four properties: problems in earlier stages cascade to later stages; stages are iterative; they are user-driven and/or system-driven; and they are uni-faceted and/or multi-faceted. From these properties, we suggest that personal informatics systems should 1) be designed in a holistic manner across the stages; 2) support iteration between stages; 3) apply an appropriate balance of automated technology and user control within each stage to facilitate the user experience; and 4) provide support for associating multiple facets of people's lives to enrich the value of systems. In the rest of this post, I will talk about our findings in further detail and discuss how the model can guide the evaluation and design of personal informatics systems.

stage-based model of personal informatics systems Figure 1. The stage-based model of personal informatics systems and its four properties.

(Full report after the jump.)

Information Collected

68 participants completed the survey and 11 agreed to participate in the follow-up interviews. We asked participants to select the personal information that was most relevant to them. Participants answered the rest of the survey focusing on their selection. The four information most relevant to participants were: finance, journaling (blogs and status updates), exercise, and general health (food consumption, weight, symptoms, medication, amount of sleep, and alcohol/caffeine intake). Other information were productivity, status of relationships, computer usage, transportation, habits of a newborn baby, and books read. Table 1 is a complete list of information that people collected.

automatic#  manual#
bank statements54  calendar events27
email history 52  status updates 22
credit card bills 38    work activities 22
phone call history 26    blog posts 21
SMS history 25    weight 21
IM history 25    exercise 20
financial software 23    browser bookmarks 20
electricity bill 23    time at work 18
browsing history 23    social bookmarks 18
search history 20    mood 17

Other automatically collected: heating bill (12), travel (2)
Other manually collected: journal/diary (16), pictures taken (14), sleeping habits (12), food consumption (12), productivity (10), health (9), medication intake (7), caloric intake (5), symptoms (5), miles ran (4), sports activities (4), blood pressure (4), blood sugar level (2), dream journal (2), step counts (2), relationship status (2), books read (1), habits of newborn baby (1), transportation (1)

Table 1. Participants reported a wide variety of information that they collected and reflected on: from automatically-collected information such as bank statements and email history to manually-collected information such as status updates, work activities, and exercise. While fewer participants manually collected information, they reported a greater variety of types of information.


Participants reported the following reasons for collecting and reflecting on personal information:

  • natural curiosity: "Curiosity. How much would I walk if didn't ride my bike?"
  • general interest in data: some people described themselves as "data nerd", "a student of information visualization", and "geeky"
  • discovery of new tools: "I've been following Nick Felton's annual reports, so when he started Daytum, I joined to start tracking..."
  • trigger events: some people cited problems in relationships, sleep patterns, and weight
  • suggestion from another person: "a doctor's recommendation (new medical issue, new medications"


We will now introduce each of the stages in the model of personal informatics systems. The stages are: Preparation, Collection, Integration, Reflection, and Action. For each stage, we will also describe the barriers that people experienced.

The Preparation stage occurs before people start collecting personal information. It concerns people's motivation for tracking, identification of what information to track, and selection of what tools to use for tracking. Problems can occur when users choose the wrong information to track or when users select an inappropriate tool that does not satisfy the user's information needs. These incorrect selections can lead to data loss and wasted time.

The Collection stage is the time when people collect information about themselves, such as their inner thoughts, behavior, social interactions, and their immediate environment. Many problems occur because of collection tools. Some problems occur because of the user's lack of time, lack of motivation, or forgetfulness. Other problems are data-related: some data are hard to estimate, subjective data lack standard ratings, and some data are difficult to find.

Collection Barriers Example Quote
Tool (13/68) "not having ready access to a computer at the time symptoms happen" P6
Remembering (12/68) "Forgetting to record it. Because I am often not at my personal computer." P57
Lack of time (11/68) "not difficult, time consuming at times." P16
Finding data (7/68) "Sometimes life isn't interesting enough to make me want to write it down, other times I can't find any worthy writing material." P54
Accuracy (6/68) "Guestimating mass of food matching homemade or restaurant foods against database entries" P5
Motivation (5/68) "keeping up the motivation to do so, finding payback for the investment of time and effort." P4

Table 2. Collection barriers.

Integration is the stage where the information collected are prepared, combined, and transformed for the user to reflect on. Problems occurred when collected data comes from multiple inputs, when visualizations are scattered, and when the data collection format is different from what the visualization requires.

Integration Barriers Example Quote
Transcribing data (10/68) "It'd be neat if I could graph it straight from the website instead of manually typing in the data to a spreadsheet" P41
Organization (8/68) "Collecting is simple. Organizing it takes some time." P29
Scattered visualizations (4/68) "A bit cumbersome going to so many different sites [for visualizations]" P6
Multiple inputs (3/68) "Difficult to keep organized because sometimes data are kept in separate places" P31

Table 3. Integration barriers.

The Reflection stage is when the user reflects on their personal information. Users may reflect on the information immediately after recording (short-term) to be aware of their current status. Users may reflect after several days or weeks (long-term) to see trends and patterns. There may be problems during this stage because of lack of time, self-criticism, and problems with retrieving, exploring, and understanding information.

Reflection Barriers Example Quote
Lack of time (10/68) "Having time to go through everything, but that is also one of my biggest pleasures is finding that time." P19
Visualization (6/68) "It's hard to get a holistic view of the data since the time filters are at most one month and I'd like to look at several months at once." P48
Self-criticism (5/68) "It's extremely difficult (psychologically) to look back on my earliest journals. Much of that information is very emotional and innocent." P12
Interpretation (5/68) "Sometimes its very difficult to interpret the media" P54
Search (4/68) "not too tough. sometimes have to wait while search occurs... but it's a couple minutes at most" P14
No context (3/68) "Not having an overlay of changes in circumstance" P11
Sparse data (3/68) "Not enough; My collection of data has been intermittent enough that I don't get good time series." P44
Data is not useful (3/68) "it's really not very useful and it's kind of annoying. I mean, I walk a lot. What else do I really want to know?" P22

Table 4. Reflection barriers.

The Action stage is the stage when people choose what they are going to do with their newfound understanding of themselves. Some may tailor their behaviors to match their goals. Some systems alert users when particular thresholds are met. Some systems provide incentives to motivate users to take action.

Properties of the Stages

As a whole, the stages have four properties that have implications for the design and development of personal informatics systems.

The first property is that problems in earlier stages affect the later stages. For example, not selecting the right tool during the Preparation stage may lead to reflecting on incorrect data. Another example is that problems in the Collection stage may lead to sparse data, which may be insufficient for insightful reflection. This property suggests that the development of personal informatics systems should be approached holistically. Of course, we should take inspiration from different fields to resolve problems within each stage (e.g., visualization techniques from the information visualization community), but development should not focus only on one stage, but consider the whole experience of the user throughout the different stages.

The second property is that the stages are iterative; users will incorporate new data, tools, and processes as they progress through the stages. For example, a user may change the types of physical activity she performs. These changes require selecting a new tool, collecting new types of data, and reflecting on different visualizations. Often times, the user cannot bring their old data along with them. This causes problems because it makes comparing between different types of physical activity more difficult. This property suggests that systems should be flexible to support users' changing information needs. Some examples are support for easy importing and exporting of data and rapid iteration so that users can hone in on the questions they want to answer.

The third property is that each stage can be classified as user-driven, system-driven, or a combination of both. In a user-driven stage, the user is responsible for the activity in the stage, while in a system-driven stage, the system is. For example, a user-driven Collection stage may require users to record information into a spreadsheet, while a system-driven stage may use sensors to track personal information. This property suggests that there are opportunities to alleviate the demands on the user using automation; however, developers should consider the tradeoffs (e.g., inaccuracy of automated tracking and loss of user control.)

The fourth property concerns facets of a person's life. Most systems are uni-faceted, collecting only one facet of a person's life (e.g., Mint for financial matters, Nike+ for physical activity). Some systems are multi-faceted, collecting multiple facets of a person's life (e.g., Daytum, your.flowingdata). However, such systems usually present multiple facets in separate visualizations. Many participants expressed their desire to see associations between different facets of their lives. This property opens several opportunities to explore how applications can better support awareness of associations between different facets of life.


We believe that the stage-based model, the identification of the barriers within each stage, and the description of the properties of the stages will be valuable for future research and development because it provides a common framework for describing, comparing, and evaluating personal informatics systems. We hope that this model would help developers and designers improve their systems, encourage creation of new applications, and guide exploration of new approaches and solutions.


Ian Li, Anind Dey, and Jodi Forlizzi. A Stage-Based Model of Personal Informatics Systems. CHI 2010. (Download the full paper)