The Quantified Self, Daytum, and a Simple Google Docs Hack

20 October 2011 01:17 PM CDT

When Facebook announced "Timelines" at the F8 developers conference the first thing I did was research the team responsible for creating the product.  I quickly found Nicholas Felton and Sam Lessin as two influential members of the Facebook design team.  Felton has a data visualization business in New York and a data visualization platform called Daytum.  What Daytum does is allow you to capture simple data points and then graphically display your gathered data in a very pleasing graphical way.  I've been capturing data about my everyday life for many years and thought it would be fun to create an account at Daytum to see how the service works.  I used the service for several days and found it to be quite helpful.  You create categories (such as Meals), and then add items to the category as you wish (such as Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks).  Using Daytum you can then chart your meals.  Over a period of time you may notice that you quite often skip lunch.  Or that you snack more often than you eat a meal.  I operate under the assumption that over time patterns will emerge and that these patterns can teach us something about ourselves.

Unfortunately, after several days I noticed that Daytum made all of my information public.  I had been gathering information such as my weight, what I drink, how much time I spend working, etc.  I quickly checked the settings to see if there was a way to make my information private.  As it turns out, the only way to shield the public from my information is to pay the \ monthly subscription fee.  These days it's very tough to get me to pay a monthly subscription fee.  And, at \ I just didn't see the value.  So, I exported a CSV file of my accumulated information and killed my account.

It didn't take long for me to realize I could create a simple and free hack to Daytum using Google Docs.  I opened Google Docs, created a new spreadsheet (called DAYTA), created three columns (one for Category, one for Item, and one for Quantity), and then created a simple form using the Google Form wizard.  Next, I grabbed the link to my form, dropped it into Fluid to create a stand alone app, and voila, had a cheap and free hack to Daytum.

What amazes me is that I'm not a computer programmer, yet I managed to create a stand alone app that I can use on multiple computers (and my iPhone) that allows me to capture data about my daily activities.  I'm amazed that I found yet another way to use Google to help me be more productive (and cost effective).

In the future I'll post some charts of my activity that I find interesting.  I've only had this Google Docs experiment running for about a week.