How Does API Design Impact on the Quantified Self?

Mark Boyd
Sep. 09 2013, 11:00AM EDT

The upcoming 5th Quantified Self Global Conference is set to reach full capacity with only 30 registrations available, 5 weeks out from the event. APIs are often at the center of curating personal datastreams in the Quantified Self movement, but it turns out they may be creating as many problems as they promise resolving.

The Quantified Self conference – to be held on 10 and 11 October in San Francisco – brings together makers and Quantified Selfers to discuss and share the latest technologies and advances in personal data management, as well as identify some of the barriers and challenges facing this growing movement.

Speaking with ProgrammableWeb, Ernesto Ramirez, Conference organizer and Program Director for QS Labs said:

“The growth of interest in Quantified Self is pretty remarkable. We have grown from one meetup in 2007 to over 100 around the world in 35 countries.

We are definitely seeing it gain more traction in a variety of arenas: on the population side there are more and more people interested in personal tracking, life-logging, and personal health data and on the business side there are a lot more tools. And then on top of this, there are both businesses and people building applications on top of those tools.”

The role of APIs in facilitating the Quantified Self movement will be one of the main discussion topics at the conference. At least one session will look at the challenges APIs cause for those making tools and apps. Ramirez explains:

“At our previous European conference, there was a lot of confusion about what makes a good API and what makes good data infrastructure so for people who want to make tools on top of applications, at the moment, it sounds like there are a lot of barriers and a lot of development time is spent trying to add data streams.”

How APIs tell the time is just one example of the level of complexity app developers need to address when curating multiple personal data streams via APIs. For example, one datastream may calculate time spent on an event by recording start and finish time, while another may record start time and the duration of the event. “Or it could even be as simple as an API not switching time zones when people move, which throws the data off”, Ramirez adds.

It is hoped a discussion at the conference will let Quantified Selfers share these challenges so that developers attending are more mindful of how to structure data in their APIs in a more sector-consistent approach.

Registrations are currently still open. The conference will combine a structured program alongside ‘show and tell’ and ‘office hours’ sessions aimed at allowing developers and makers share examples of Quantified Self self-tracking projects and the tools they have built. “We always try and create a low-key environment that allows substantive discussions amongst those attending, so the constant inspiration people receive from what they see and hear doesn’t get lost in rushing to the next session,” Ramirez said.

Image used with permission from Sacha Chua's review of a session at the last Quantified Self conference, from her website Living An Awesome Life .

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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