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When Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai left the New York startup last year, he gave a few hints that his interests were moving in the direction of the growing Quantified Self movement and personal analytics. But his latest project is as personal as it gets.
Last week, he released a “personal API” that includes his own check-in data from Foursquare, along with information about his sleep, weight, steps and activity. At the Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC on Tuesday, he shed a little more light on to why he’s going public with such private data.
Since college, he said, he’s been a careful record-keeper of all kinds of personal information, creating special systems for logging everything from the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched to the lines of code he’s written and the runs he’s taken.
But all that data exists in isolation, making it difficult to draw out patterns and extract interesting value from it. By putting it all in one place and opening it up publicly, he said he hopes he can start a broader conversation about personal tracking and uncover more uses for Quantified Self-type data.
“I thought, let me just get the data out there and maybe my buddies and other interesting developers and hackers can make something of it,” he said. “Maybe they might notice something — some patterns in the data — that I hadn’t otherwise noticed myself.”
Selvadurai’s project reflects a broader trend toward making sense of disparate personal health data streams. Last week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) launched the Health Data Exploration project to encourage individuals, companies and scientific researchers to join forces around the use of personal health data. And the Open mHealth initiative is another non-commercial effort aimed at enabling health data integration. Startups Tictrac and Human API are similarly interested in helping people find value in their personal data (although they tackle the problem in different ways).
At the Datapalooza, Selvadurai said that, in a way, behavior in the pro-sharing Quantified Self movement parallels that found on general social media outlets.
“We’re all trying to live like Hollywood,” he said. “In the Hollywood of old, [celebrities were] living in the public eye… [with] social media, we’re kind of emulating that but we’re our own paparazzi and Quantified Self data is a little bit like that.”
He also added that new tracking technologies are enabling the masses to improve themselves in the same way elite athletes do.
“[For athletes], everything is logged… and your coach knows it and your trainer knows it and that’s how you get to better performance,” he said. “And now we have access to the same tools athletes have to do these things.”