So many services, so much data. How can I make sense of it all? You’ve probably had this thought yourself on occasion. You have your Fitbit data, your calendar data, your email data, your task management system, your last.fm music data and so on. All of these things exist in their own silos.
If you’re halfway intrepid, you’ve maybe even made efforts to liberate your data from these prisons. Best case scenario: you’re left with a half-complete .CSV file that is incompatible with all the other .csv files you’ve downloaded from other services. Now, if you want to hook all these files up together, you’ll have to clean them up, massage the various tables and forms so that they match up. And then you’ll have to perform a whole host of calculations in order to figure out how you’re doing, or what the data has to tell you.
Collating all this data and making sense of it can be a full-time job in and of itself. I admire those who give talks at institutions like the Quantified Self, telling tales derived from the past 20 years of financial tracking or weight data.
Personally, I don’t have time to do all of that. I need a service to help me out, something that will serve up platters of charts and correlations that address the main broad questions that I might address of these various data streams, notably:
- how am I feeling?
- how am I sleeping?
- am I moving enough?
- am I getting enough work done?
Now you might say that it’s easy to look at each of the services individually and you’d be right. I can look at a chart over at Fitbit.com and I’ll see something that shows me all the data for the past 12 months:
This is nice, but it doesn’t tell me a great deal, aside from the fact that I seem to be walking less in Amman than when I lived next to a huge forest in a provincial part of Holland. No surprises there. Also, a whole year is a bit too much for me to process. It doesn’t really help me calibrate my current actions and my plan going forward.
Enter, Exist. I’ve been using Exist for a little over a year now, checking in on the site pretty much every day. Their own explanation for what they do is:
“We turn numbers into insights. We collect data from the services you already use and find trends and correlations in the results.”
You hook up all your web services, and your Exist dashboard will be populated with pretty graphs, useful correlations and various other goodies. These are the services currently supported:
Your dashboard page has a bunch of different panels which aggregate data from different parts of your life. For instance, my activity panel for today looks like this:
I usually go for a walk in the evenings, so I’ll most likely end today with a higher count, but you get the idea. There are panels for activity, productivity, sleep, mood, workouts, health, location, social media, music and weather.
So the dashboard is where you can come to get a snapshot of the reality of your current short-term. Exist also offers correlations and suggestions based on its combination and number-crunching of all the various parts of your data stream. This is often most interesting when it comes to your mood data. Check out these recent correlations that Exist crunched from my self-reported mood data alongside the other automated streams:
There are so many different types of charts and graphs; it’s difficult to pick my favourite ones. Here you can see my slow but steady battle to increase the amount of time I sleep every day, for example:
The mood data is self-reported. Exist sends you an email every day at a time of your choosing and you respond with a number from 1–5 alongside some comments about your subjective experience of the day. These comments are also then processed into useful charts and prompts. Weird things I’ve learned from Exist’s number crunching:
- the less I sleep, the more likely I am to have a ‘perfect’ day (i.e. 5 on the 1–5 mood scale)
- the more it rains or snows, the happier I am
You can use Exist in a bunch of different ways, depending on what you hope to get out of it. For my own situation, I love how it encourages awareness of my current patterns on the short- to medium-term timescale (i.e. one week to three months). For things like sleep, where it’s easy to forget whether you’re managing to do what you seek to do (i.e. sleep more, or get up earlier etc), Exist is really excellent.
There's a sizeable userbase who actively contribute to shaping the future of the company / service through feedback. There are a bunch of things I'd love to see happen with Exist -- changing the 1-5 scale for mood feedback to 1-10 as a start -- but the site is actively developed, and I'm really happy with all the new features that have been added in the year or so since I signed up.
You can find out the future / expansion plans that Belle and Josh have for Exist here. There’ll be more services and correlations and integrations will be more usefully presented. All of this is as you’d expect. Belle and Josh are good people (together, they make up HelloCode which is the Australia-based parent entity that produces Exist, among other things). I spoke to Belle for a Sources and Methods podcast episode; that’ll be out soon, I hope, so keep your eyes out for that.
In my interactions with Belle / Josh I’ve been really impressed with the service that they offer through Exist and their other products. I put them in my personal category of ‘nice, kind people seeking to do good things in the world through offering really useful services’. Like the team who run Beeminder and GMB Fitness, Belle and Josh offer something that saves me time and adds meaning on a daily basis to my life. Exist is a paid service. If you already run a bunch of the services listed above in the diagram, you’ll probably benefit from Exist’s charts and correlations. I hope you’ll consider signing up for their free one-month trial.