“Great software is like a lever — it helps you get way more done in way less time and with less effort.” - Jason Fried
Always do what you are afraid to do.
— George Bernard Shaw
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
It’s called a lilac chaser. You’ve seen it before. It’s an optical illusion with a small black cross in the middle, encircled by twelve blurry lilac-colored dots. A green dot animates over the lilacs as though counting the time on a futuristic clock. Stare at the cross long enough and the lilacs disappear, one by one. But the moment you get distracted and look away, the lilacs come back.
The black cross is the work you do. The lilacs are all the things ancillary to your work. They’re the small choices you’ve made around your black cross: the time you wake up, the tools you use, what you have for breakfast, when you check your email, and so on. They’re the various aspects of a daily routine—things that, when fixed in place, disappear with the passage of time.
Disrupt yourself before someone else comes along and does it.
— Brian Fitzpatrick
What the mind can conceive and believe can be achieved.
— Napoleon Hill
"The Personal API" by naveen
a personal API
i’ve long been a follower of the quantified self – even back before we started calling it that and started building all this software behind it. when i was in graduate school, i remember thinking i wasn’t reading enough. so i made an effort to cut through many must-read books (75). in two years of school, i tracked (microsoft excel, as you do) each page read (21,278) and the number of days (622) and kept a running log of pages-per-day (34.21). i got my goal of 10,000 pages a year and, bonus!, i got through a few classics that still continue to be my favorite stories.
more recently, as i’ve gotten older, i started getting more interested in tracking my health and fitness. when we are young and in our twenties, we can get away with pretty much anything. but like everyone else, the older i get, the more i realize i only have one body – and that i should try to keep it tuned to get the most performance out of it. i started at first by writing my workouts down, and then trying out all types of digital trackers. one favorite tool that came out of this period was the withings scale: it allowed me to periodically keep track of trends in my weight and body composition and allowed me to think about big trends in my life that affected performance.
so far, i’ve used various tools and hacks over the years to collect this data. but i’ve long wanted it all in one place – or, at least, something to give me the illusion of ‘one place’. a dataset that is a single repository and view of my body as opposed to various silos of data scattered across different services and devices. of course, this requires that we all play along in some way and make our systems open and provide APIs for getting at this data. not only are we still in the early stages of building such self awareness software, but so too are we still some ways from designing the right data sets and figuring out ways to expose them to our users. i believe the openness of the latter is just as important as the first point and i think we still have some ways to go in that regard. (for example, on many of the services i’ve tried recently, i’ve had to cobble together and reverse engineer things to pull my own raw data out in some normalized form).
as a part of all these experiences, i’ve always been curious about the idea of a personal API – a ‘quantified naveen’ – that would expose all of the information i knew about myself in a clean, open document. i think i’ve wanted to do this because:
1) i wished to play with the idea of a ‘virtual me’ that’s entirely inside the machine;
2) the idea of a ‘published’, always-public me has intriguied me (we share our tweets and checkins and photos and music habits to a wide audience, so why not other types of behavior and habits as well?);
3) and i’ve been curious what one might be able to do with such a resource: will any of it be useful for research? might one create apps on top of me? or perhaps draw insights that i haven’t yet been able to see myself?
as a way to start this off, i’ve put up an API of such personal data. i’m calling it api.naveen. it currently exposes sleep, weight, steps, fuel/activity and checkins. i aim to keep adding to this list with a few more interesting ones as i think of them.
have a look: http://api.naveen.com/
drop me a note and let me know what else you’d like to see and what you end up doing with this. i welcome the start of a good discussion.
I used the LinkedIn iPhone app the other day to download my connections to my iPhone address book. Immediately upon starting the download, I was greeted with a familiar foe: the dreaded progress bar. Yep, the empty rectangle that never seems to give you an real indication of how long the current process is actually going to take.
We’ve become accustomed to the progress bar over the years, but I constantly wonder how the experience could be improved for end users. Granted, it only lasted about 30 - 60 seconds in this example, but why must I be subjected to such a stellar waste of time?
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that LinkedIn was only selected because of the recency and fact that it got me thinking about this subject again. As you already know, this “problem” if you will, spans way beyond any one particular app or web culprit.
I mean, move the progress bar out of focus and show me SOMETHING of value—whether it be of the entertainment or informative variety. Because almost anything would be better than looking at a progress indicator that more often than not doesn’t provide an accurate measure of progress (anyone who has sat and watched a software installation spend 50% of the total time showing 99% progress knows exactly what I mean).
To LinkedIn’s credit, shortly after my poor experience with the main app, I downloaded their new contact management app, LinkedIn Contacts. Instead of a progress bar hogging up the entire screen, this time I was greeted by a moderately helpful tour of the app. As you’ll see below, the progress bar was still visible, but it was no longer the only thing in view.
(Bonus points if you noticed the state of the progress meter in this screenshot)
We can only hope that LinkedIn Contacts represents the beginning of a broader shift away from traditional thinking around progress bars, but that remains to be seen.
So, from all of us sick and tired of a lack of progress to anyone who crafts experiences for software, we plea to you: please make progress bars suck less.
Don’t base your happiness on people caring [about your stuff], because they won’t.