The Commercialization of Quantified Self: It’s A Good Thing
I enjoyed spending the weekend at the first Quantified Self conference in Mountain View. I’ve been reading some of the post-event tweets and enjoyed reading Ernesto Ramirez’s blog post with his reflections on the conference. (Ernesto gave a wonderful, energizing talk about creating a treadmill desk and admonished everyone to go do it themselves.) Ernesto wrote about his hope for investors in QS to focus on the entrepreneurs who are truly passionate about QS. I agree and I’d like to expand on why I think commercialization here is a good thing.
I also volunteered for the conference, to help bring in sponsors and exhibitors. I thought the exhibits could serve a dual purpose – give attendees the opportunity to learn about cool products that are out there to help with self quantification, like Zeo, Philips DirectLife, BodyMedia, etc.
For the exhibitors, I saw it as a place where they could share their products and services but also a place where they could interact with leading edge customers, people who could give face to face feedback about a product they’ve been using for some time, or a product they are just seeing for the first time. I had the sense from attendees and exhibitors that these goals were met.
So clearly there are already companies involved in Quantified Self, some of which have been around for some time before QS as a group started to take off (eg BodyMedia), and some which are just getting started. I’ve written before about what I like about Quantified Self, and I view the QS community to be the “alpha geeks” that Tim O’Reilly has spoken about — trailblazers worth watching. QSers are highly motivated and willing to make do with whatever tools they can find. That’s great and I also hope that continues. I continue to be inspired by their stories and their ingenuity.
What motivates me is seeing the possibility of what will happen when anyone can self quantify and make sense of the data. When people can easily, even invisibly gather data that will help them better understand their own health risks, start to take action, and see the results occurring through the feedback loop that data can provide. When people with chronic disease can use these techniques to understand whether new steps they are taking — a lifestyle change, a new medication — are having an effect on their symptoms and underlying condition. When we can have an effect on behavior change and self efficacy for anyone.
To get to that point of accessibility — through invisible devices, easy to use interfaces, well integrated systems, customer service/support — we need money to flow into this space. We need the early adopters to share their successes and for people to see the impact that this can have, and then we can build companies and ecosystems that will help this grow and become available to more people and have a bigger health impact worldwide.
And when that happens, perhaps people will lament that it isn’t the same anymore, it isn’t a small community where you know everyone, where people were just doing it because they needed something and made it themselves, where the motivation was personal, not commercial. But to really have a big health impact, I believe we’ll have to move from craft to commercial. The craft can still exist, and that can help continually create new ideas and pressure to improve and fix the problems that aren’t fixed yet. (I loved that we had exhibits from people like Kyle Machulis of openyou.org who were passionate about this showing off their non-commercial projects.)
What QS can do as a community is encourage these entrepreneurs and startups, help them understand the need, design with values we care about like integration and data portability, and build products that we want to use and we know will be useful to everyone. Then we will all win.
©2011 Alex L. Bangs, All Rights Reserved.