Early Adopter: The Daytum iPhone App Visualizes Your Life (and Lunch) as Data

For data nerds everywhere, the pinnacle of numerical navel-gazing has, at least since 2005, been Nicholas Felton’s beautifully designed “Annual Reports” on the numbers behind his personal behavior.

He has meticulously recorded, quantified, analyzed and laid out all manner of data from his life in a series that riffs on the annual reports that businesses issue to their shareholders.

Instead of earnings and capital expenditure statements, Felton’s reports are full of numbers like cost-per-mile-run at the gym and how many hours he worked from home versus office.

And now, of course, there’s an app for that.

Daytum, the name under which Felton and his co-creator Ryan Case have released what is essentially a consumer-focused designers’ portfolio project, previously existed only as a Web app to help users track and organize the everyday data of their lives.

The Apple iPhone version, released on New Year’s Eve, puts the sans-serif-chic data collection interface into your pocket and out into the world, where life’s data actually happens.

So, what is it good for?

Felton and Case hope that the app, plus a forthcoming API to their Daytum Web application, will enable more people to see their own data in a new way.

The app is designed to help you begin tagging the pieces of data that you’d like to track.

There’s no automated input. Just tap the screen to create a category of data you are interested in tracking.

Add the category “Lunch” and then set up some recurring fields under lunch. “Sandwich,” for example.

Then, anytime you eat a sandwich, or anything else, for lunch, you can quickly mark it down.

The app allows you to add data points as they happen, even if you don’t have an Internet connection right then.

How else would you track how much money you give to subway musicians each month?

So, we ask again, what’s it good for?

Whether or not you ate a sandwich today, Felton admitted, is not all that interesting. He claims the data of life becomes more compelling in the aggregate.

Maybe you’d like to know how many miles you walked this month, or how your mood correlated with the weather, or if you or your partner changed more diapers this year.

It might not seem like groundbreaking stuff, but the data of a life starts to tell a story when laid out, clean and collected, in Felton’s various visualizations.

Felton said that data’s value comes on may levels.

“It helps you see and share all kinds of stuff about your life–it can be really interesting to people who know you,” he said.

Digitizing the human analog data of the world is certainly a growth area in tech.

Tools have emerged to find out when users are awake via their tweets, there has been major growth in mobile purchase tracking and patents are being awarded to companies that offer deals based on where a person goes.

If the renaissance of this arena is still years off, it might be the perfect time to try to get ahead of the curve and tap the brains of people who are already thinking like it’s 2015.

Felton has spent the last half-decade staring at and organizing his own data and, more recently, the data of others via Daytum.

I asked him what wisdom he might have gained from his unusual pursuit.

“People seem to record binary items really well–things like one drink, or watching one TV show,” he said. “Recording gets harder and less regular when it’s things without a set size or quantity, like when they ate a meal.”

When I asked if he felt suspicious of the businesses that were gathering his data, he came back with something a little deeper.

“I think the walling up of data by businesses is really a missed opportunity, not cause for suspicion,” he said. “Someone knows how long it has been since I called my mother, but I can’t be certain. That information could be valuable to me.”

He added: “Businesses seem to be stuck on the idea of loyalty rewards being about points.”

For Felton, data can be its own reward.

His next data-driven project might bring the whole idea home.

Felton’s father passed away in September, and he’s decided to postpone his 2010 report for something larger and more personal.

So, he will release a single report on all of his father’s 81 years based on data gathered from years of slides, travel postcards, “FasTrak” auto toll payments and myriad other sources.

“I have gotten to know things about him that I never knew while he was alive,” he said. “I’ve learned that he was much better at maths and sciences than English back in school. I can actually quantify that.”

But the question on the minds of so many emerging data-driven businesses is: How well can we know people, our users and consumers based on their data?

Finding that answer seems to be Felton’s personal mission. And in the spirit of his other reports, he will share it, and the tools he uses to find it, with the world.

Still not convinced of what it’s all good for? We’ll let him explain for himself in this video interview:

(Early Adopter is a new column on early-stage start-ups and ideas that will be written weekly by Drake Martinet.)

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