Rethinking Life Quality Tracking For 2018 & Beyond

I’m rebuilding Illuum, the life tracking app. A little bit of why and a look at the new prototype!

In my year post-startup, I found myself all over the map emotionally and personally with an uncertain future. They say building a company is an emotional rollercoaster, well, it’s nothing compared to not building a company.

I felt the need to go back to using my life quality tracking app, Illuum. I did some small updates and tried to start using it again but two things quickly stood out to me: it was missing a few key features I wanted and the interface is outdated. It’s been a fine side project since 2010, but it’s not the top-tier application I’d want to use in 2018.

Here’s the process of rating a day in the current version, in screenshots because gifs make me dizzy:

☝First you select the day you want to write about.
☝Then you select a rating.
☝Then you talk about your day.
☝Then you can answer your custom questions. Here I have mine set up for positivity mindfulness.
☝And you’re done! With options to rate another or view your overall results. Changing anything requires going back through the wizard-like process, with options at the bottom here to jump to certain points.

It gets the job done, but it’s page load after page load and you don’t have random-access to talk about your day in the manner in which you want. You have to start with the rating, then do the writing, then answer questions. It’s a linear adventure when it should be an open world! Afterall, our minds can be all over the place.

So the first reason to rebuild it: I want it to be just as good (or better!) than the apps I use on a daily basis.

It should be as effortless as a notes app.

There are plenty of things I like about the current version still. The biggest I’ve found, especially after talking to current and former users, is just how damn useful a tool like this can be. It has helped me and it has helped others. The fundamentals of digging into your life and getting it all down somewhere are hugely valuable to those of us with brains made of what I can only assume are boiled cabbage and old bicycle parts.

But because life can be so hard and complex and distracting, the tool needs to be right in your face sometimes to be used. It’s a tool that needs to be used even when motivation to do so is at its lowest. And that leads to the biggest request I’ve gotten over and over: an app. People (including myself!) would rather use their phone or iPad or a native computer app separate from a browser.

So that’s what I’ve been doing to it: modernizing it into app form.

Making All The Apps

I want to target the four biggest platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. That’s a ton of work for one person who also has a full-time-and-a-bit-more workload, but that’s okay. Great things aren’t built overnight. I’m starting with the desktop versions, because that’s where I will use them the most, and the best way to make great software is to be a user yourself. By the time I get to mobile, the functional kinks should be nice and ironed out and I can focus on the mobile UX.

You’ll notice I also didn’t mention a web version. Well, there’s a good reason: I don’t think there will (or should!) be one. I’ve become increasingly wary of having my own data spread across so many small services and startups on the web. And the data this app stores can be very personal. In addition, to keep my current servers running, I fund the cost out-of-pocket. The costs aren’t huge, but it also means I can’t promote it for fear of going broke, and have to limit the number of new users. I could start charging them recurring fees but as I’ve said before, I hate recurring software fees.

So the solution to keeping the data local, switching to a single-charge per-platform pricing model and not worrying about scale is going app-only. Add in the ability to sync your data using any existing Dropbox-like data syncing service, and no one will miss the web version. And with local syncing instead of a web version, goodbye usernames and passwords. Hello, optional security PIN instead. Nothing worse than trying to write about an already bad day and then having to hunt down a password!

A Note For Existing Users

For those who still use Illuum on the web, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere, but it will remain isolated from the apps. For those who wish to move to the app versions, there’ll be a way to transport your data. And to all of you who’ve donated to Illuum at some point in the past (thank you!), I’ll make sure you get the new apps for free. Ain’t no one being left out in the cold!

So What Does This New Thing Look Like?

Here’s what it looks like:

life tracking app concept
The macOS version. The design is not final yet, so this is the latest Sketch export. The real prototype is fully functional but not yet as shiny.

This is the MacOS version. Let’s break it down.

You have the last week always on the left so you can flip back and forth, or catch up on a few missed days easily:

Quick switching and auto-saving means you can flip around like it’s a text editor or any other local app.

Rating a day is really simple, with the day’s rating at the top right:

Ratings are optional this time around, so if all you want to do is write or log a single emotion, you can do only that.

For those unfamiliar, you rank each day on a scale from 1-10. This has two benefits: reflection — taking the time to think if your day was actually as bad as you thought (hint: it never is); and perspective — shifting your mind away from “I feel terrible” to the much more helpful, “I feel terrible now but it will pass.”

New to this version is emotion tracking:

Pick the ones you felt strongly that day. You can use the default set of emotions, or customize the list however you like.

Two ways in which this is beneficial are: ownership — accepting that you feel a certain way to take away its power over you; and long-term study — seeing if you are experiencing feelings more or less over time as a self-improvement measure.

And lastly, there are the custom questions after the main entry:

You can ask yourself whatever you want to keep track of, and answer it through a yes/no, a select one, or many, or free form to enter whatever you want.

For example, if you’re working on your general positivity, you can ask yourself to name a positive thing that happened that day. Or if you’re wondering if your feelings are persuading how much you like your job/relationship, you can ask how you felt about your job/relationship that day. Then you can analyze it long-term against your emotions and general ratings. (More on this analysis in a future post.)

TLDR

The goal is to create a better, smarter tool for those of us fighting against unpredictable brains. It’s not a full solution — it’s a companion piece to therapy, medication, good life habits, and whatever else someone might need. What it is is the tool you use to do the work to get better.

With emotion tracking, infinite options for custom questions, and much more advanced analysis (again, more on that in a future post!) I hope this new version will help bring me and everyone else to another level of self-understanding.


If you’re curious to know more about the process of going from concept to a full-blown live and running app, subscribe below because I imagine I’ll be writing quite a bit about it. Having only done web projects before, a lot of this will be a whole new experience for me.