Device Ecosystems and the Quantified Self

The current state of Quantified Self Devices is the model where every device has an API and a corresponding app with a sharing ecosystem.

Why won’t this work long term? Each device and social ecosystem wants you to completely buy into their entire world. This presents problems with privacy and data ownership. Customers have to to trust that they are handling your data properly, letting you share with who you want to share it with. In addition, if you request that your data and account is deleted, you must trust that the company will delete it. Device APIs are designed not to get data out of them in the best way, but to display content. Furthermore, if the a device-making company is dissolved, you will lose all of your personal data.

Current Quantified Self Device Ecosystem

Current System

Aaron Parecki and I were sitting at the back of an Quantified Self APIs discussion led by Eric Jain when Aaron realized that there was something wrong with the current way quantified self devices are built and marketed. He quickly drew up a series of diagrams and later wrote a post, The Future of Quantified Self Devices. This post attempts to highlight some of the key points of his arguments.

The Ideal Quantified Self Device Ecosystem

Ideal System

In this model, device manufacturers are making tracking devices. Some of them will require a cloud service to get the data off of the device, because its easier to build the hardware that way. The difference here is that the device’s cloud service is not an API. It’s a synching service that ships data from the device to your personal server.

How does this work? You have a personal server, a virtual or physical server that you own that you can selectively grant access to these devices to be able to insert data. Then you can also selectively grant access to aggregator services or analysis services to be able to read the data or give you visualization on it. There’s another added benefit. Device manufactures are freed from the obligation of building an app, website, or social network. Entire companies can be dedicated to software. Hardware providers can focus on what they’re really good at; the hardware. Ditto for software providers.


Read more about The Future of Quantified Self Devices by Aaron Parecki.

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