Ben Scofield

me. still on a blog.

On What I Want to Do

We just wrapped the 2013 edition of RailsConf, and I’m both exhausted and excited. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by 1500 of your peers, all sharing knowledge, experimenting, and having fun for a few days.

Every year at RailsConf, we have a job board – and every year, it fills up on the first day. Hundreds of hands shot up when we asked who was hiring on the first day, and being around that many people thinking about jobs and recruiting and whatnot meant that I got to explain why I’m funemployed (and what would cause me to leave it) several times in the last few days.

When asked that over the past few weeks, I’ve been telling people basically the same thing, so I thought it’d make sense to set it out here. This, then, is what I want to do:

I’m fascinated with feedback as the primary mechanism to improvement. I love the research on the development of expert performance, devices that measure and report on your activity, and experiments that show how our behavior is shaped by the way people and the world respond to us. I’m intrigued by self-tracking, to the extent that when my Nike Fuelband stopped working I bought a Jawbone UP to get me through the couple of days it was off for replacement.

The Fuelband, UP, and other devices represent to me the culmination of a march of progress (that I’ve referred to before). For any given domain,

  1. You start with no tracking
  2. Then, you start tracking – but it’s intermittent and subjective (I ran today)
  3. Next, you start to track events when they happen (keeping a running log in your car)
  4. After that, you start to add technology so that your recordings are more objective (I ran 3.2113 miles in 29:42 – thanks, GPS!)
  5. Once you’ve got technology, you can move to automated recordings (automated tweets of your progress)
  6. And finally, when the tech is small, light, and low-powered enough you can keep it on all day long and measure all activity, not just designated runs

This process describes a continuum from a complete lack of tracking, through sporadic, subjective, imprecise recordings, all the way to objective, continuous, ubiquitous tracking. That’s what I’m interested in – applying that process to different domains, specifically so that people can then look at the data, understand what they’re actually doing every day, and make changes for the better.

These efforts do exist, but for the most part they’ve only advanced in the health field, and more specifically in the general-physical-activity field. Fitbit, Nike Fuelbands, and Jawbone UPs are great, but I see an enormous amount of potential for this same process to take place in other aspects of fitness (for instance, weight training), reading and publishing, software development, and more.

So: if you’re working on something like this, let me know! I’d love to chat, even if I’m not an exact match for what you’re doing.

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