Last week I talked a bit about how the web has changed and the rise of self-publishing. Another trend on the web that has gained momentum the last couple of years is personal data tracking. People from all walks of life are jumping on the concept of documenting certain aspects of their lives. And when the web is involved, it’s not enough to document, but people want to share that data as well.
One of the best tools available for doing just that is Daytum. Developed by Nicholas Feltron (the Feltron of the well known Feltron reports) and Ryan Case, Daytum allows you to easily capture and categorize small bits of information. And with a bit of thought, Daytum users can create stunning visuals that give great insight into the way we live our lives. The application is well described on the home page:
There are two plans for this application: Free and Plus. The Plus version will run you $4 USD a month and gives you more storage and privacy options. I’ll touch on the limits of the Free plan as we go along.
Let’s take a look at how the tool works.
Daytum breaks down it’s “Features” into several main components.
These are the heart of Daytum, and are the end result you want to achieve when collecting your data. Collecting data in and of itself is not really that helpful — it’s only when data is collected, analyzed and summarized does it become information that is useful. That’s exactly what the Displays in Daytum are for.
The Displays are broken down into different types. Each type is basically a different type of chart of method of displaying your information. Some data would not be suitable for certain displays. Daytum offers sixteen different types of Displays, giving the user a good variety of options for how they want to summarize their data.
The How To page on the Daytum site has a good overall description of the Display types:
Display panels provide a variety of options for presenting your data. With just a few entries and a combination of these display types, you can effortlessly create a compelling page.
It’s important to remember that the Dsiplays are the end result.
Just as you would think, Items are the things you want to count. For example, you could track the pounds you’ve lost, the books you’ve read, or the coffee’s you’ve consumed. This is the data you are actually collecting, the building blocks of the information you want as an end result.
The Plus plan allows for unlimited Items while the Free plan stops at 1000. The important thing to realize here is that each coffee you enter is not an item — coffee is one item. Each coffee that you’ve drank and entered into Daytum is an entry, not an Item.
Categories are how you group or filter your Items and are what you use to build your Displays. Every time you enter an Item, you can add which Category(s) it falls under.
Again, the Plus plan is unlimited here but the Free plans allows only a maximum of 24 Categories.
Pages are where you display your data by adding groups of your Displays. Each page can be named, organized and ordered. With the Free plan, you only get 1 page while the Plus plan allows a maximum of 12 pages.
As well Display panels, you can also add Statement panels. These are basically notes that you can use to display opinions or statements of fact and are not related to aggregating data at all.
Daytum offers a few other features such as a global item entry panel and mobile submissions.
Putting it All Together
Does that all sound a little confusing? It can be at first. It’s best to start using this tool with a few goals in mind. Once you get started, it gets easier to envision how you can put the tool to use.
Start at the End
It’s best to start with identifying your purpose. What is it you want to track and know more about? Wonder just how much you eat out every month? How much TV you watch? Many of the habits we foster in our lives take up so much more time or energy than we usually realize. That’s exactly where the idea of documenting comes in — it empowers you to decide whether you are living the way you want to or if changes need to made. How? By giving you a better perspective on how you live.
To get started, identify a goal you want to achieve by using this app. For an example, I’m going to use my enjoyment of coffee to illustrate how to use this app. I wanted to track my consumption of coffee over two months. I have this impression that I don’t drink all that much coffee … but is that really true? My goal was to determine how much coffee I drink on average every day.
There’s one way to find out — document.
Then Move to the Bottom
Once you have identified what you want to get out of the app, start by adding your building blocks. For this example, I started by adding several Items that were all beverages of one type or another. My habit is to always have something to drink close at hand when working on the computer, so I added all the different beverages I might consume.
Once that is complete, I added a few categories of beverages. For example, I have an Item for coffee, but I also have a Category for coffee. Items that contain any type of caffeinated coffee (coffees, iced coffees, mochas etc.) would fall under the Category of coffee.
After you have your basic structure in place, the next thing you need is discipline. You need to document what you’re doing when you do it so as not to forget and ruin your experiment. Luckily, Daytum has some nice way to add entries to your account. Mobile submissions are allowed via text message or Twitter.
I simply used Twitter to send direct messages to the Daytum Twitter account. Every time I had consumed one or two beverages, I logged it in via Tweetie. It can’t get any easier or more accessible.
Tallying the Results
Once you have been adding entries consistently for a couple or weeks, go back to your account and add some Displays to your page. Now that there is some data to work with, you can start to get a picture of your overall habits.
I added several Displays to my page that involved my beverage consumption. First was a simple list of my total coffee consumption levels. This Display (first on the left column) displays the total number of coffee beverages consumed in the last month.
The second Display (second in the left column) lists all the beverages of any type period. The time frame is set to Everything, showing me all entries I have entered since I began.
The third and fourth Displays are both averages, showing the average number of coffees per day and the average number of waters per day (first and second Displays in the right column). And there you have it — after one month of entering data into Daytum, I’m averaging 2.34 cups of coffee a day. Not so bad.
If you are interested in identifying patterns in your life or documenting your life in general, give Daytum a good long look. As I stated above, it can be a little hard to get started. But once you know where you want to go, it’s simply a matter of beginning with the basics.
I hope this example gives you an idea of how to do just that. For further examples, use these links to see how other people use this tool: