My New Book Project: A Novel About Virtual Reality

I recently started work on a novel, on the theme of Virtual Reality. I think VR is the most promising consumer technology around right now. Products like the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Samsung’s Gear VR are all early stage (Oculus hasn’t even released a version 1.0 for consumers). But VR is poised to change the world.

My first book, Trackers, was nonfiction. It was about self-tracking, which in my view has been one of the most interesting consumer technologies of the past five or so years. Why? Because it has fundamentally changed the way we manage our health. And now the Apple Watch is about to make self-tracking mainstream.

Virtual Reality seems to be at a similar point that self-tracking was in 2007, or what became Web 2.0 (and led to YouTube, Facebook et al) in 2003. It’s at that point where the technology is a couple of years away from being complete, but the potential impact is huge.

Because VR is a work in progress, I decided the best way to explore this technology was to write a work of fiction. So that’s what I’m attempting. My role models in this endeavor are some of my favorite novelists: J G Ballard, William Gibson and Tom Wolfe.

I should mention that in 2014 I started a second nonfiction book, on the topic of Douglas Engelbart and The Mother Of All Demos. But I’ve put that project on hold, as I couldn’t find a way to make it a compelling Laura Hillenbrand-esque narrative. The trouble with writing nonfiction about technology is that there is usually very little action or excitement in the narrative. The solution, at least for me at this time, is to make up my own action and excitement! In other words, write fiction instead.

Even though I’m now writing a novel, my goal is the same as it’s always been: to explore technology. That’s been my modus operandi as a writer since the founding of ReadWriteWeb in 2003.

If you’d like to follow or help me in my new writing adventure, I’ll be active most days on Twitter.

Paradise Lost: How Moreover Won & Lost The Real-Time Web

MoreoverNews aggregator Moreover was born in the late 1990s, at the same time as Google. At one point, Moreover dominated Google in the delivery of real-time news. So why did Moreover turn its back on the Consumer Web…

The late 1990s was the middle of the Dot Com boom. Looking back, we tend to associate this period of intense growth with e-commerce startups. During 1998, eBay went public, Paypal was founded, Amazon.com was spending big to “expand its reach” and Pets.com launched. Also started in the late 90s, but with much less noise, were two pioneering information management businesses. In 1998, two Stanford University students working from a Menlo Park garage were testing a new search engine, called Google. At about the same time, three Englishmen joined forces to create a “news aggregator” called Moreover.

We all know the Google story by now. Much less well known is the story of Moreover and how it changed the way we consume news. Basically, what Moreover did was gather news headlines from all over the Web and make them available to other websites to use. Both were pioneering search engines, in their own way. Google ‘spidered’ the Web for links, while Moreover ‘scraped’ news websites for headlines. Google ended up building the best all-purpose search engine in the world. Moreover succeeded in building not only the best online news distribution tool, but (almost by accident) the first news search engine. Indeed Moreover was the catalyst for Google building its own news aggregator, Google News.

The story of Moreover is also one of opportunity lost, for both Moreover’s founders and for consumers of online news. Because within the space of just a few years, Moreover switched from a consumer business model to an enterprise model. It went from being an ‘information wants to be free’ enabler, to the lock and key of information gatekeeper.

It’s not as if Moreover wasn’t successful in the consumer market. In 2001, Moreover had Google on the ropes as a distributer of online news to consumers. When the 9/11 tragedy struck, the best way to get updates online was the Moreover-powered news search on AltaVista. But soon after, Moreover turned its back on the consumer market for the easy money in enterprises.

It’s particularly galling as a consumer of online news today, since the powerhouses of this era — Facebook and Twitter — are terrible at filtering and organizing online news. Precisely the expertise that Moreover had, and still has.

Late last year, Moreover was quietly sold for the third time. This latest acquirer seems appropriate to the fate that Moreover chose for itself. The sale was to LexisNexis, one of the earliest gatekeepers of electronic information (it was founded in 1970).

Moreover is a good case study of what happens when consumer innovation is stifled early on. Had Moreover kept going on its original groundbreaking path, it may well have solved some of the problems that frustrate us today on the consumer Web: a lack of intelligence in sourcing quality news, the paucity of quality topic tracking tools, a general lack of interest amongst the big companies (Google, Facebook and Twitter: I’m looking at you!) to let users filter and organize information. Moreover’s technology could’ve made a difference, had it chosen a different route.

How Moreover Got Started

The founders of Moreover were Nick Denton, David Galbraith and Angus Bankes. Galbraith and Bankes were the developers, Denton the business guy. Denton is the most well-known of the trio now, as the always quotable founder of blog network Gawker. In 1998, he left his job as a journalist at the Financial Times in order to raise money for Moreover. He roped in two early investors, angel investor Richard Tahta (a senior director at Amazon.co.uk) and British venture capitalist Christopher Spray of Atlas Venture. A press release dated June 2, 1999 announced the seed round, which valued Moreover at $3.75 million.

On the same day, Moreover launched its website. It enabled anyone to add a list of news headlines to their own website, by copying and pasting a snippet of code. Denton’s ambition was “that every site should have a Moreover section, of web-style newsfeeds that we provide.”

The service was free for webmasters and developers. But to make money, Moreover also had a premium offering for corporate and media websites. Search engine portals were its prime target. Portals were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as destination webpages for all kinds of content: news, email, weather, and more. Moreover’s news headlines would be perfect for portals, as well as company intranets (which were essentially portals too — I know this because I built and managed intranets for a living back then).

Moreover 2000Moreover sometime in 2000. Image credit: Brian Kelly, University of Bath, Reflections On WWW9.

Although it charged companies to access its news feeds, Moreover itself didn’t pay news providers for the links. Instead it used a clever technology hack to “scrape” the headlines. At the end of August 1999, Denton described Moreover to a technical message board as “an internet service which scrapes headline links from about 1,500 sources on the web, and across more than 150 categories of news.”

This ‘scraping’ method eventually attracted controversy, because to some news media companies ‘scraping’ was a synonym for ‘stealing’. The way Moreover preferred to view it was that it was doing the world a service, because it organized information — much like Google was doing. As David Galbraith described it for a presentation at the 2000 World Wide Web Consortium, held during May in Amsterdam, Moreover was “taking unstructured data and delivering structured results in various flavors of XML.”

The Rise of RSS, Blogging & The Real-Time Web

In 2000, a Web publishing format called RSS began to gain momentum. Originally developed by Netscape in 1999, RSS was based on XML and enabled websites to publish a real-time feed of news. The acronym had several definitions: Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication. The reason for this was that development on RSS had forked into two separate projects: the first run by blogger and Web developer Dave Winer, the other a breakaway group of entrepreneurs and developers called the RSS-DEV Working Group.

In February 2000 Denton and Galbraith traveled to Silicon Valley to get their heads around the politics of RSS. The pair ate spicy noodles in Menlo Park with Dave Winer. [Incidentally, I too have had the privilege of eating spicy noodles with Dave Winer — along with Michael Arrington, Gabe Rivera and Fred Oliviera — in October 2005.] Despite the appeal of Winer’s format, which was already popular with bloggers, Moreover sided with the RSS-DEV Working Group — which didn’t release its version until December 2000.

Spicy NoodlesNick Denton eating spicy noodles with David Galbraith and Dave Winer, February 2000. Photo credit: Dave Winer

Moreover soon cornered the market on the commercial use of RSS. It began to position itself as “the webfeed company” and claimed to have “the world’s largest collection of webfeeds.”

Moreover also tried to grab a big slice of the blogging market. Sometime during 2001, Nick Denton tried to pursuade the Moreover board to buy pioneering blog publishing platform, Blogger. The price was $3m, but the board balked at the deal. Frustrated at not getting his way, Denton quit as CEO in August 2001.

As an ex-journalist, Denton saw potential in blogging and he began to experiment with this new form of publishing. He bought the domain name Gizmodo.com in July 2002, which became the early flagship of his media empire Gawker.

Despite Denton eventually being proven right about blogging, Moreover was right to keep its focus on news aggregation in 2001. Indeed, shortly after Denton resigned as CEO, Moreover made a breakthrough as a source of real-time news. It was due to the 9/11 tragedy. That fateful day, everyone wanted news updates urgently. It turned out that AltaVista, not Google, was the fastest way for people to get updates. That was thanks to the Moreover-powered ‘Top News Stories’ widget on AltaVista, which meant the latest news stories about the terrorist attack were just a click away. AltaVista also had a special ‘News Search’ box on its homepage, which enabled users to search across the more than 2,000 news sources scraped by Moreover at that time.

altavista 911altavista on 9/11/01; Image credit: emc.elte.hu.

As well as AltaVista, Moreover had licensed its technology to other leading search engine portals of the era — including Yahoo!, MSN and AskJeeves.

Ironically, Google had overtaken AltaVista as the leading search engine on the Web earlier in 2001. But Google hadn’t realized the importance of real-time news updates and search, until it saw Moreover’s widget on AltaVista. Development on Google News began shortly after, finally debuting in September 2002. Several months after that, Google acquired what Denton had coveted — it bought Blogger for an undisclosed sum in February 2003.

Google may’ve been slow off the mark with real-time news, but after 9/11 it made all the right moves. The same can’t be said for Moreover after 2001.

The Switch to Enterprise

Moreover’s exposure on the leading dot-com search engines was as far as it would go in the consumer world. Soon after, it began chasing the easy money in the enterprise world.

By the middle of 2002, Moreover was promoting itself as “a provider of real-time information management solutions to Global 2000 companies.” Its PR became a jumble of enterprise IT buzzwords. Moreover promised to “impact business decisions,” “capture the most actionable information” and “provide business users with continuous function-specific information.”

This switch in focus was a great shame. It’s tempting to wonder how far Moreover could’ve gone in the consumer Web market, considering that another golden era (which came to be termed ‘Web 2.0′) was just around the corner. Consider that Moreover had built a pioneering news syndication and distribution service. It had virtually cornered the consumer market for this, with its near blanket coverage on the major search engines of the era. The only major search engine Moreover wasn’t featured on was Google. But at the time, 2000–2001, Google was a distant second to Moreover on real-time news. Google wasn’t yet a big threat.

Yet despite holding all the cards in the nascent RSS and news syndication market, Moreover went the conservative route and marketed itself to corporations. The conclusion is clear: Moreover missed a huge opportunity to out-maneuver Google and dominate the real-time Web.

Blogger Jason Kottke, who worked as a designer for Moreover from late 2000 to mid 2001, lamented in an October 2003 blog post that Moreover was no longer “at the forefront of this still-developing space, building on those innovative ideas that they weren’t able to execute on.” The frustrating thing is that Moreover was certainly capable of executing on its innovations. It simply chose the safer route. Co-founder David Galbraith later suggested this was due to internal pressure from its board to find “a revenue model.”

The Exit: Verisign

Despite the opportunity lost in Web 2.0, Moreover’s enterprise pivot was undoubtedly profitable. It also led to Verisign’s $29.7m acquisition of the company in 2005.

Verisign, an Internet infrastructure company, wanted to become the Grand Central Station of real-time news — the central point from where it all flowed. A not unrealistic goal, considering that at the time Moreover was gathering news from “more than 12,000 news sources and millions of blogs.” Google was worried about this, so it put in a late bid for Moreover. But the deal went ahead with Verisign.

Verisign made another, similar, acquisition at the same time, buying weblogs.com from Dave Winer for $2.3m. Weblogs.com tracked any change made to a weblog, via a simple “ping” to the web server. As blogger Tom Foremski put it, the two acquisitions together enabled Verisign to “track most new content published online, and track who accessed it and where.”

At a time when RSS and blogs were the primary ways to disseminate news on the Internet, Verisign was suddenly looking like a potential kingmaker.

Verisign had at least a couple of years with which to press its advantage, but it frittered it away with corporate dithering. It wasn’t until 2007 that social networks — and in particular Facebook and Twitter — began to challenge RSS and blogs as content distribution platforms. But from 2005–2007, Verisign did virtually nothing with Moreover on the consumer Web.

What Verisign did instead was double down on the enterprise strategy. Which meant more impenetrable marketing-speak. In May 2006, Verisign announced the release of something called the “Moreover Connected Intelligence (CI) Newsdesk 3.0.” The market yawned.

At about the same time, I was writing on ReadWriteWeb about how a young startup called YouTube had doubled its traffic in May 2006, from 6.6m unique visitors in April to 12.6m in May (YouTube now has over a billion users). Of course in 2006 nobody had any clue how big social networking would become, but something was happening here. Whatever it was, Google noticed. It acquired YouTube in October 2006 for $1.65 billion, at the time a staggering amount.

In this context, Moreover’s connected-newsdesk-blahdy-blah was at most dull and at worst irrelevant.

Moreover continued to sleepwalk through 2007. By the end of that year, Verisign had given up completely — it announced a plan to sell off Moreover and other “non-core” businesses.

To add to the frustration, Moreover’s scraping of news feeds finally got it into legal trouble. In October 2007, Associated Press sued Verisign for copyright infringement. The lawsuit was settled “amicably” in August 2008. Although the terms weren’t disclosed, the fact that Moreover continued to include AP’s links in its service suggests that a licencing agreement was reached.

The Rise of Social Media; Moreover Goes Indie Again

After yet more dithering, Verisign finally sold Moreover in May 2009 to a group of investors led by former AOL executive Paul Farrell. Included with the transaction was weblogs.com, which led to a name change for the combined company: Moreover Technologies, Inc. At the time of the sale, Moreover claimed to catalog “450,000 news articles daily from more than 30,000 news sources.”

Paul Farrell assumed the reigns as CEO of the newly independent Moreover just as social media was starting to dominate the online news landscape. The month after Moreover was sold, Facebook began to make public posting the default for its users. Prior to 2009, Facebook was primarily a private social network. This shift in strategy by Facebook was largely in response to the growing popularity of Twitter, which had a breakout year in 2009. In a June 2009 blog post, Moreover itself noted that “the traditional blog [is] no longer the main vehicle for expression.” Instead, it was “micromedia platforms like FriendFeed, Posterous, and Twitter.”

While the term “micromedia” quickly went out of fashion, the big picture trend was evident by the end of 2009: social media was taking over from RSS and blogging as the main distribution method for online news.

Under Farrell’s leadership, Moreover adapted to this seachange. It continued to focus on the enterprise market, so nothing earth-shattering was developed. But to its credit, Moreover poured resources into social media monitoring. In June 2010, it announced a new product called the ‘Social Media Metabase business intelligence portal’. Moreover was now scanning 12 million news sources, a 390% increase from a year ago — thanks to the addition of millions of new social media accounts.

Gatekeeper 2.0

Nothing of note happened for the next four years, until Moreover was acquired by LexisNexis in October 2014 for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition wasn’t even noticed by the technology media. Since LexisNexis is a legacy gatekeeper of digital information (primarily legal content), it just seemed like a big fish swallowing a smaller one.

moreover_lexisnexisMoreover homepage, March 2015.

But the LexisNexis acquisition was deeply ironic, because Moreover was created in 1998 to be the antithesis of LexisNexis.

‘Information wants to be free’ was the rallying cry behind early Web innovations like Wikipedia and Blogger. In part, that philosophy was in response to the first wave of digital information management companies — like LexisNexis. Those companies held information under lock and key. If you wanted access, you had to pay for it.

During its first few years, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Moreover had challenged this model. It had made access to information — in this case, news content — much more freely available. It put that content onto many of the major search engines and portals of the Dot Com era. It allowed bloggers and small niche websites to access and use that content too.

In my research I stumbled across an article dated 1 January 2000, in which two LexisNexis executives discuss the then young startup Moreover. “Wasn’t this UK company,” asked the reporter, “by providing news feeds for free, flying in the face of the established online vendors?” The European Director of LexisNexis at the time, Jon Webb, agreed that Moreover presented a challenge. But he questioned its long-term viability. “If all the information which is currently for free remains free and increases,” said Webb at the beginning of 2000, “then where is the profit going to come from to pay for the endeavour? The quality must suffer and where is the incentive for you, as a journalist, to write, or me manage? There are still many people out there who value trusted sources.”

It turns out that Jon Webb of LexisNexis was right: there wasn’t enough profit for Moreover in providing news feeds for free. Or at least, not enough profit to satisfy Moreover’s board and investors. The bursting of the Dot Com bubble didn’t help. So in 2001, at the same time it was successfully beating Google on real-time news, Moreover began to look for a solid revenue stream. There was an easy solution: sell its news aggregation technology to enterprise customers.

In short, in 2001 Moreover became an information gatekeeper — just like LexisNexis.

The further irony is that Moreover was able to become a gatekeeper despite not paying for information itself. The only exception was when Moreover was sued — then it had little choice but to pay. For the most part though, Moreover freely ‘scraped’ information from thousands of news sources around the Web.

What If…

What if Moreover had continued to make its technology available to consumers for free, instead of becoming a gatekeeper? Instead of Verisign and then LexisNexis acquiring it, it could’ve been Google or Yahoo. Indeed, think what Twitter or Facebook would be able to do with such powerful information management software. The achilles heel of both Twitter and Facebook is that neither does a good job of filtering and organizing news content.

I’m not faulting the founders of Moreover — Denton, Galbraith and Bankes — for not following through on its early innovation. The likely cause of its switch to the enterprise market in 2001 was financial pressure. Moreover’s board wanted the company to find a revenue source fast, so it chose to focus on corporate customers.

The real damage was done in 2005, when Verisign acquired Moreover. At the time, Moreover was still well positioned to disrupt online news — after all, Google itself put in a bid to buy it. But the innovation was stifled once and for all under the bumbling management of Verisign.

That said, history also suggests that Google probably would not have done much better. Witness how Feedburner, the most innovative RSS management startup of the Web 2.0 era, was virtually shelved after Google acquired it in June 2007.

As for the information management landscape of today, it’s clear that Moreover under LexisNexis is totally irrelevant to consumers. If there’s one takeaway for the present I’d like to posit from the story of Moreover, it’s this:

We need a new Moreover for the Facebook/Twitter era.

What if a couple of clever developers like David Galbraith and Angus Bankes, and a big thinking entrepreneur like Nick Denton, took on the information gatekeepers of today? What if they developed a tool that helped us better organize social media, track the topics we’re passionate about, and discover the pearls of data we’re looking for. What a divine service that would be!

Of course, the temptation would be the same: to sell out to an enterprise company.

Trackers eBook Now Available On Amazon & iTunes

Trackers by Richard MacManusI’m pleased to announce that my book, Trackers: How Technology is helping us Monitor & Improve our Health, is now available on the Amazon Kindle Store for $7.99 and the Apple iTunes Store for $9.99. Click on one of the following links to purchase the book:

Amazon Kindle Store

Apple iTunes Store

The ebook will also soon be available on Google Play, the Kobo Store and Nook Books. The paperback version will be released in New Zealand bookstores on 1 January.

If you enjoy reading Trackers, please consider rating it on Goodreads.

My book tells the story of the rise of self-tracking, the practice of measuring and monitoring your health through technologies such as smartphone apps, wearables and personal genomics. In the book you’ll discover how Fitbit and MyFitnessPal began, the pros and cons of 23andMe’s genetics service, how the new wave of doctors is adapting to self-tracking, and much more.

I hope you enjoy the book and let me know in the comments here, or on FacebookTwitter, Google+ or Goodreads, what you think of it!

RicMac’s Top 10 Tech Of 2014

Every December since 2004, I’ve posted a year in review of Internet technology. In 2010, I began doing a top 10 list of my favorite technology products and I’m continuing that format this year.

2014 has been a particularly interesting year for new media, with innovations in blogging, podcasting, curation and paid content. Three of my top ten are examples of new media innovation.

My debut book about self-tracking, Trackers, will be released on Amazon and other platforms later this month. Naturally enough, three of my top 10 tech products are for health tracking. Not as many as in 2013 (five), but 2013 was when I wrote my book and so that’s when I used them the most. In many ways the best is yet to come with self-tracking, with the launch of Apple Watch in early 2015 set to shake things up.

It’s also been a good year for ‘real world’ Web: Uber, Airbnb, Square, Apple Pay and other services that bring the Internet onto Main Street. I only had room for one of these services in my top ten, but it’s the most representative of what’s great about this trend.

The other three tech products in my list are consumer services: for note-taking, password management, and music. Here we go…

1. Evernote

Evernote

For the fourth year in a row, Evernote is my top technology product. It’s where I plan and organize everything: my book projects, my personal goals, house hunting, business ideas, etc. The fact that I can access – and add to – this information on all of my computing devices makes it an indispensable tool for me. I still use paper notebooks too, for daily notes and for handwritten journals, but they complement my usage of Evernote rather than compete with it.

2. Airbnb

Airbnb

This year I discovered the beauties of Airbnb, the social bed n’ breakfast service. On a book research trip to the US in May and June, I stayed with Airbnb hosts in Boston, New York and Palo Alto. Not only was this much less expensive than staying in hotels, I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting the locals and getting to know their neighborhoods. Airbnb has been disrupting the hotel business for a few years now. It’s an industry that needed to be disrupted, with its exorbitant daily rates, bad Wifi and thin walls. Uber has similarly disrupted the taxi industry and has gotten far more press than Airbnb this year. But for me, Airbnb is the best example currently of the Internet overhauling a complacent ‘real world’ market.

3. MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is a smartphone app that allows you to track what you eat. One chapter in my book Trackers is devoted to the history of MyFitnessPal and the implications of using it. This year, the company has continued to improve its world-class app and further bulk up its already powerful database of food data. Of all the apps I used when writing Trackers, MyFitnessPal was the most useful to me.

4. Bleacher Report

Bleacher Report

2014 has been a great year for independent media companies and in my view there is none better than Bleacher Report right now. Its ‘TeamStream’ smartphone app was my regular companion while watching the 2014 NBA Finals, the football World Cup, and the baseball World Series. The live data, stream of real-time tweets, and post-match analysis (particularly Alex Dimond during the World Cup, perhaps the best blogger-analyst around right now), all added to my experience of watching a live sports match. I also like how you can follow certain teams in the app and continue to get news year-round.

5. Fitbit

Fitbit

The subject of another chapter in my book Trackers, Fitbit has faced a lot of competition this year in a crowded self-tracking market. It’s going to get a lot tougher next year, when Apple Watch is released. But this year at least, Fitbit more than held its own. From the $100 Zip to the $250 Surge (due for release in 2015), it has a solid range of clip-on and wrist-worn activity trackers. I’d really like to see an indie tracking company hold off the inevitable surge into self-tracking from Apple, Google, Microsoft and other bigcos in 2015 and beyond. Fitbit seems the best bet to do that, although Jawbone’s UP is also doing good things in this market. Go the indies!

6. 1Password

1Password

With the plethora of web sites, apps and services we now have to deal with on a daily basis, a good password manager is essential these days. I use 1Password to create and maintain an individual password for each service, which is the safest way to keep your data private across the Web. The addition of Apple’s touch ID for 1Password this year was a further reason to like it.

7. Overcast

Overcast

2014 was an excellent year for podcasting. I found myself listening to more podcasts (and audio books) this year, partly thanks to new podcast apps such as Overcast. Basically a replacement for iTunes, which gets clunkier and cruftier every year, Overcast makes it easy to find new podcasts. Its organization of shows and categories needs some work, but features such as sound enhancement make Overcast a better choice than iTunes. Note: Overcast is iPhone only, but here’s a list of Android podcast apps.

The Bugle

As for my favorite podcast shows this year, they included: The Bugle (if you think John Oliver is funny, wait till you hear his Bugle partner Andy Zaltzman and his infamous pun runs), NPR All Songs Considered (still the best music show), Bret Easton Ellis Podcast (a revelation this year, with his opinionated interviews), and The Partially Examined Life (my regular philosophy fix).

8. Spotify

Spotify

Another mainstay of my top 10 list each year is Spotify. It’s had to battle Taylor Swift and others in the music industry this year, but for the consumer Spotify is a wonderful tool for finding new music and exploring back catalogs. I also love Spotify because it’s helping to keep the album format alive and flourishing. Playlists on Beats and personalized streaming on Pandora are all well and good. But the album is the supreme artistic format of music, even in this digital age – and Spotify respects and promotes that more than its competitors.

9. MediaREDEF

REDEF

The email newsletter made a surprising comeback this year and there’s no better example than Jason Hirschhorn’s MediaREDEF. It also happens to be content curation at its finest. Every day I open up this email and find several fascinating stories. They’re usually things I wouldn’t have found on Techmeme (the best daily tech news aggregator), my RSS feeds in Feedly, or in social media like Facebook and Twitter. The Web is too noisy nowadays, so filtering services like MediaREDEF are needed and appreciated.

10. Glucose Buddy

Glucose Buddy

Azumio’s diabetes management app, Glucose Buddy, is possibly my most used app. As a type 1 diabetic, I enter my blood sugar readings into GB Pro 5-6 times a day. Every month, I export my data to a spreadsheet to analyze it further – although GB Pro has excellent graphing features, so I could do that in-app if I wanted. One of the wonderful things about the self-tracking movement is that there’s an app for every aspect of your health. GB Pro is my go-to diabetes app.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are some of the technology products that didn’t quite make my top 10, but which I also found very useful this year:

  • Medium: still evolving, but in 2014 it brought blogging back into fashion.
  • iPhone 6 Plus: feels like a man-purse to carry around, but undeniably great for Web content.
  • Feedly: my favorite RSS Reader, in this post-Google Reader world.
  • FB Messenger: Facebook got a lot of flak for making messaging a standalone app, but it was the obvious thing to do – I use it a lot.
  • Dropbox: the King of Cloud; plus, again, support the indies!
  • Techmeme: as mentioned above, continues to be the leading tech news aggregator; I also read Mediagazer daily.
  • OmniOutliner: my outlining software of choice in 2014.
  • Hootsuite: had a much needed design overhaul this year, which made this Twitter list manager essential to me.

What Apple Watch Means For Trackers

Apple Watch

This morning Apple announced its much anticipated smartwatch, called Apple Watch. It will be released “early 2015,” which I’m thrilled to say is also when my book about self-tracking will be released! My book, entitled Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health, is about how technology is fundamentally changing how we track our daily health and care for our bodies. The book tells the stories behind the Fitbit activity tracker, food-logging app MyFitnessPal, personal genomics company 23andMe, and other self-tracking pioneers.

There’s nothing in the new Apple Watch that usurps the functionality of those existing tracking products. But what the Apple Watch will do is take self-tracking mainstream in a big way.

When I began writing my book, Trackers, I knew it had to be about more than the technology. Because at the time I started, I couldn’t know what tracking product Apple – or indeed any other company – would eventually release. I only knew that newer and better tracking products would come out; and that Apple’s would be a game-changer. So in writing my book, I prepared for that. Instead of writing about how to use the existing products, I focused on the philosophy and usefulness of health tracking.

This promotional video is a great overview of what Apple Watch will bring to the self-tracking table:

 

I should note firstly that Apple Watch is not solely focused on health tracking. The tracking is just one of many features that Apple Watch appears to have. Indeed its timekeeping and social features were highlighted in Apple CEO Tim Cook’s keynote today. But I personally think the self-tracking functionality in Apple Watch will be one of the most appreciated features, when the new watch becomes available in early 2015. Apple says that its watch is “made to measure all the ways you move.” Here’s how Apple explains the tracking features:

Apple Watch unites the capabilities of an all-day fitness tracker and a highly advanced sports watch in one device you can wear all the time. It can track a wider variety of activities because it’s able to collect more types of data. It uses an accelerometer to measure your total body movement. It has a custom sensor that can measure intensity by tracking your heart rate. And it uses the GPS and Wi‑Fi in your iPhone to track how far you’ve moved.

Note that you’ll need an iPhone in order to use the Apple Watch. But that’s hardly surprising, in this era of big tech companies tying you into their platforms.

3 Rings To Rule Them All

OK that’s the hardware side of it. There’s also the software.

Apple Watch fitness

The watch will come with an “Activity app,” which will be a circular visualization of your daily health.

The Activity app on Apple Watch provides a simple and powerful graphic of your daily activity, with three rings telling you everything you need to know. The Move ring shows how many calories you’ve burned. The Exercise ring shows how many minutes of brisk activity you’ve done. And the Stand ring shows how often you’ve stood up to take a break from sitting. The goal? Sit less, move more, and get some exercise by completing each ring every day.

Apple Watch

I think the key part of the software will be how Apple Watch motivates you to “lead a healthier life by being more active” (that quote is from the video):

Each week, Apple Watch suggests a new Move goal for how many active calories to burn per day, based on your recent history. Adjust it up or down until it feels just right. You close the Move ring when you meet your personal active calorie burn goal for the day.

This gets at the heart of self-tracking, and what my book is all about. In order to stay healthy, you need to understand your body and what its needs are. Technology on its own doesn’t do that, but it can help. That’s what fascinated me about Fitbit, MyFitnessPal and even the controversial 23andMe. This is what excites me about the new Apple Watch too – it’ll help you monitor and maintain your health. Whether that’s through exercise or the watch simply telling you that you’re sitting down too much, Apple Watch will help you “minimize your sedentary time throughout the day.”

Apple Watch iphone

The iPhone will complement the Apple Watch, in that it will enable you to “track your progress over time.”

Apple Watch lets you see your daily activity at a glance. To see your progress and trends over longer periods of time, there’s Fitness — an Apple Watch companion app on your iPhone. You can view your activity history, workouts, and achievements by the day, the week, and the month. And it’s easy to zoom in on the details to see just how far you’ve come.

Health App

Apple Watch will also be able to connect with third party apps, like Fitbit:

There’s also a Health app on iPhone that allows you to share your activity and workout data with your favorite third-party health and fitness apps.

In conclusion, the Apple Watch looks to be a highly advanced – and great looking – smartwatch. Plus it turns out that the publication of my Trackers book will be perfectly timed to coincide with its release. So when you buy your Apple Watch in early 2015, I hope you buy my book too!

The Quantified Doctor

Quantified Care

My first book, due out January 2015, is about the Quantified Self movement. It’s called Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health. One of the chapters is about a doctor who encourages her patients to use self-tracking tools, such as Fitbit or MyFitnessPal.

Well now there’s a self-tracking company that caters specifically to doctors, called Quantified Care. I think this is a fantastic development, because these tools can benefit doctors just as much as they do their patients. Here are a couple of infographics from Quantified Care that showcase this:

QC Infographic 1

QC Infographic 2

My ‘Trackers’ Book Will Be Perfect For Apple’s Healthbook Users

Healthbook

Earlier this month I announced that my upcoming book about self-tracking had found a publisher. The book is entitled Trackers: How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor & Improve Our Health (the final title may be slightly different). My book was completed at the end of 2013 and has just started the editing process, so it’s due out January or February 2015.

Judging by a comprehensive report this morning on the 9to5Mac blog, my book will hit the market just when Apple – and probably Google too – is starting to take self-tracking mainstream in a big way. Here’s the introduction to the 9to5Mac post:

Seven years out from the original iPhone’s introduction, and four years past the iPad’s launch, Apple has found its next market ripe for reinvention: the mobile healthcare and fitness-tracking industry. Apple’s interest in healthcare and fitness tracking will be displayed in an iOS application codenamed Healthbook.

According to the article, Healthbook strongly hints at an upcoming iWatch. Although even as a standalone aggregator of heath data on the iPhone, it would be hugely valuable. As the 9to5Mac article concludes, “Healthbook may just be able to transform healthcare and fitness management for the betterment of society.” I for one can’t wait to use Healthbook, whatever its final form may be.

In my book, I deliberately left room for an Apple or Google to shake up the self-tracking market. I tell the story of a number of self-tracking companies, but the book isn’t product-centric. So this news about Apple’s Healthbook excites me greatly!

healthbook-book

healthbook-cards

Images: 9to5Mac

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,430 other followers