Creating A Dynamic, Mobile Life Diary [PSFK SEATTLE]

Saga app scans keeps track of the places you’ve been to in order to create a rich picture of your day-to-day existence.

Building up to our PSFK SEATTLE event on May 10th, we’re interviewing the creators and thought leaders who will be sharing their latest ideas with us. Kevin and Andy are the co-founders of A.R.O., Inc, a Paul Allen backed Seattle-area startup that has developed an innovative ambient location tracking smartphone application. Their forthcoming app Saga uses smartphone sensors to enable a new kind of automatic lifelogging, and offer users key insights about their behavior.

What lead you to create Saga?

We started off with a pretty modest goal: we wanted to know if your smartphone could know exactly where you were — without requiring you to check in.

What are the key features of Saga?

Saga’s a lifelogging app.

It records your real life story, as told by the places and people you visited, and what you did there — and compiles it all into a beautiful diary, called a lifelog.  We try to make it easy and fun to look back on where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’ve said and seen. And we do this all with little to no manual input required from a user. That’s it.

In the near future, you’ll see us start surfacing more context and relevant information about you, based on our analysis of your lifelog. The longer you lifelog, the richer every interaction with Saga will get. That additional data and context can and hopefully will unlock a bunch of very interesting possibilities for smart notifications, and potentially fix the spammy recommendation problem we see in many apps today.

You’ll also see us get more social, as well. We believe lifelogging is powerful when it’s a solitary endeavor — but it’s even better when you’re able to catch a glimpse of how other people are living their lives. This has been a dream of ours for a long time. We think Social lifelogging will be a fundamental new medium and a completely new way to share. You have your online social life, and then you have your Saga. I want to be able to share with you pieces of my Saga that are meaningful to me, and I want to be able to follow when you achieve great things down the road.

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What was your biggest challenge in creating this application?

Battery life. We learned early on how fiercely protective users could be of their phone’s battery.

The rap on location apps is that they consume a lot of battery. And that’s traditionally been the case: most location apps fire up the GPS (a notorious battery suck) and leave it running until the user turns off the app — or the phone finally succumbs, whimpering. That wasn’t good enough for us. If we knew if we were going to ask users to keep Saga running 24×7, we had to make sure that we sucked down as little of the battery as possible. We had to get smarter about how we used the phone’s resources.

Our goal was to get an acceptable margin of consumption to value ratio. If Saga makes your phone die before lunch, or dinner for that matter, that’s absolutely not acceptable.

We’ve spent almost a year going back to the drawing board, testing and retesting to get this down. And I’m thrilled to say we’ve done it.

We learned the hard way exactly how little battery users were going to let us consume. We initially thought that users would be willing to trade as much as 10% of their battery in exchange for access to their lifelog. Nope: it wasn’t until we got battery consumption down under 3% that users began to sing our praises. Incidentally, that’s a lot less than most apps you use on a daily basis.

What are the benefits of lifelogging?

 Many people view lifelogging as a way to effect some kind of positive change in their lives. Increased self-awareness has been shown to be key to reducing the number of negative behaviors you engage in on a daily basis (like drinking in the afternoon or not getting enough sleep) and can even help you increase the number of positive behaviors you want to include in your life (like eating your veggies or working out).

For me, the attraction to lifelogging is even more basic. It’s about using technology to create a lasting artifact. Something I can use to supplement my own memories — and a faithful representation of me (or at least the me I was, circa 2013) that I can leave behind.

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Do you perceive any resistance to the trend of tracking and recording more and more of our everyday lives

We’ve definitely seen attitudes change dramatically over the past year.

If you’re a smartphone user who uses social media, chances are that you can be convinced to track — and share — personal data in a public setting. And almost everything is fair game for sharing:  ranging from your weight and sleep patterns, to the people you’ve been hanging out with, to your current location and the places you’ve been to.

Current estimates suggest that 1 out of 5 smartphone users are doing some kind of tracking of personal data on their phones. And that’s not even taking into account the growing market for personal health tracking devices, like the Fitbit, the BodyMedia Armband, or the Jawbone Up. We think that lifelogging is a natural extension of this trend — no matter whether you’re doing it with Saga, your Google Glass, your Memoto camera, or whatever awesome app or device comes next.

Being respectful of our users’ privacy is so important for us. We’re committed to never selling a user’s individual data. We built Saga because we believed that smartphones could do so much more for you — not because wanted to trade on users’ intimate data. We’re committed to making it easy to download — and delete — your data from our servers. It is your data, after all.

Thanks Kevin & Andy! Meet them May 10th at PSFK SEATTLE.

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Visit PSFK SEATTLE to see who else is speaking and click below to buy tickets.

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