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Friday, April 09, 2010
Review: TallyZoo
Review: TallyZoo

I consider myself an empiricist. With enough data, a person can track any trend and perhaps any changes to those trends that might lead to more successful results. As someone who is continuously striving to improve myself, I had taken particular interest in a new web series at Scientific American about self-experimenters.

iPhone App Review | TallyZoo

 



I did more research and found there’s a growing community of folks who perform experiments on themselves to see if they can improve themselves and perhaps contribute something to the world’s pool of knowledge. Keep in mind, these people typically aren’t hooking themselves up to weird gadgets or injecting themselves with Hyde-ian chemical formulas. They come up with simple things they can track such as “how much water should I drink per day?” and then keep accurate records of how much they drank and what kinds of effects different levels have on themselves.

I wanted to do similar things, and as someone with ADHD I have a number of things about myself that I’d like to improve. The problem is, having ADHD means whatever I do has to be simple, easy and can be easily made ubiquitous in my life. Any effort needed to document or record data would quickly force it out of my vision and end up in the dustbin. My iPhone seemed the perfect device for tracking data as it’s never far out of reach, and I’m on it often enough during the day that adding in data could be effortless…with the right app…

Fast forward to a couple of weeks back when the author of one of the blogs I follow, The Quantified Self blog posted his own review of the TallyZoo app as well as a brief interview with the developer. The article also gave folks the opportunity to get codes to try out the premium version of the app. Satisfied it looked like something I would get good use out of, I requested and got a review code.

TallyZoo does provide a lite version that allows you to do most of what you can with the premium. The primary differences are you’re limited to tracking just 9 activities in the lite and any data you sync with the TallyZoo website (more on that later) is set to public by default. The premium version allows you to set your activities to private. I downloaded the lite version and played with it for a couple of days before getting the code and could easily see the potential of the full version. Creating activities is quick and straightforward. I did find, however, that I didn’t like a lot of the default options, and ended up having to switch every one every time I created an activity. For example, in those that I’ve created so far, I’ve wanted to track daily events. But, the default is to track weekly. Also, the default is for activities to be public, but I want them private. These aren’t major issues, but it would be nice to simply have an option to set a template that I can use to create all new activities. BTW, one nice trick: if you’re trying out the lite version and switch to the full, simply sync with the site, and then sync back down in the full. EASY migration!

iPhone App Review | TallyZooiPhone App Review | TallyZoo


Once you’ve setup your activities, using the app is dead simple. Simply tap an activity and it increments your count. The count is configurable, so if you want it to track two of something each tap, you can do that. I would like to see the ability, though, to do fractions. Even if I had to enter that data manually, it would give me a bit more flexibility. Also, the addition of activities that were just “booleans” would be nice. There’s a couple of items I track that I just want to track that I did them once a day such as my chores. “How much does my happiness fluctuate based on my doing my chores?” What?  It’s a valid question! It requires that I track that the chores were done and I can then correlate that with happiness data. One significant drawback I found was that you can’t easily decrement an item. Once you’ve counted, it’s counted. You can shake the device to uncount your last count, and can keep shaking to keep going back in time. But, if you realize after incrementing three counters that you screwed up the first, you have to shake and invalidate all three and start over. And, if you don’t notice it, or the app crashes (as just happened a moment ago), the data stays. So, taking my example of booleans above, if I accidentally hit one of them twice, I’d have a skew in my data. Even if I had to go to the website to change it, that would be fine.

You can color code activities to keep like ones together, and there are multiple pages you can use. I’ve found I simply setup those things that I want to track that will only occur in the morning on one page, the afternoon another, and so forth.

While the app itself does provide you the option to look at graphs of your data, they’re fairly limited in that you can only see one at a time. These, too, need the ability to template. They default to showing you the data added up over time. So, looking at the glasses of water item I track, it appears I’ve had 26 glasses today when in fact that’s what I’ve had over the time I’ve been tracking it. You can modify this, but it has to be manually modified for each graph.

The real power of the app exists at the TallyZoo website, though. Each time you open the app, it syncs all of your data with the site. Here, you’ll find more advanced graphing options. You can combine different activities so you can show the correlation between two different points. I’ll give you a hint on that: create a new activity at the website and set its type to “Combo”. You’ll then be able to combine two or more already existing activities into one graph. I had to go digging to find that out. Again, showing the maturity level of the app and site, if you want to track daily totals rather than totals over time, you have to manually go in and edit each of your activities. I had thought that if I changed one on the app and synced it would make those changes for me, but no such luck.

Finally, one feature that’s missing I’d like to see is the ability to export my data.  I’d love to be able to input this data into Excel or some other format, and it looks like the developers are actively working on an API that will allow you to do just that. For now, though, I’m limited to what I can get in the app or the site.

Summary: Overall, this app is a great tool for self-experimenters who want an easy and simple way to track data points. Being on your iPhone makes it very hard to forget to increment data points. The app is fairly new, and is a bit rough around the edges. But, there is a very active community providing feedback and suggestions not to mention very obvious involvement by the developers. It’s definitely usable now, but will continue to grow in features as time progresses!


Features - 2.0
Appearance - 3.5
Usability - 4.0
Value - 4.0
Overall: 3.4 stars out of 5


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