Guest writer Ernesto Ramirez is a co-organizer of the Bay Area Quantified Self Meetup group and will be speaking at our office next week for QS Night.
At Quantified Self meetups across the world you can listen to amazing stories of self discovery and transformation. Individuals tell their stores of using data to better understand who they are and how they interact with the world around them. Often, those stories center around new devices and tools for collecting data. From physical activity to sleep to geolocation, the amount of data that is being captured, processed, and made available is growing at exponential rates. All of that information is being used by individuals, groups, and institutions to generate knowledge and understanding at what seems like a breakneck speed. This is major progress for QS, but open APIs are crucial.
One of the great things about many of the products that QSers use (and create) is the ability to tap into the data streams through the use of APIs. Access to data is essential for individuals who are asking difficult and new questions. And isn’t that what APIs are all about? Opening up the doors and letting the stream of data free so that people can make use of it. The data we create is incredibly valuable as it is, but it becomes infinitely more valuable when we can analyze across platforms.
Why are APIs so important to those of us engaging in self-tracking and self-experimentation?
The devices and services used to collect data have already determined how they want to present that data to you – and it’s often great, but rarely entirely comprehensive. Maybe they only show you one day at a time, or they group data in a certain way. Whatever the case may be there has probably been a time when you pulled up your favorite self-tracking application and said, “I wish it showed me [fill in the blank]“. Trust me. I’ve been there. Many, many times.
Beau’s look into multifaceted data is really interesting in another way as it leads towards another fantastic use of APIs within the QS space. Many of the self-experiments that people engage in involve looking into how different data sets are related to each other. Do I sleep better when I go for runs in the morning? How much money do I spend when I check into bars alone or with friends? The more data we have access to the more interesting comparisons we are able to make. In essence, those APIs and their associated data allow the QSer to develop and explore an ever growing world of personal hypotheses.
Even the government is getting in on this game. Do you want to start quantifying your community? Why not look into the recently released US Census API! It’s idealistic, but important, to imagine a future where every data source we interact with has an API that we can access and make use of, and that is when things will get really fun.
As Quantified Selfers, the most important thing we can do is stress the importance of APIs and data freedom.