Instead Of Tracking Your Activities, Saga Tracks You

Forget your search history, running mileage, and spending habits. Saga learns who you are by tracking where you go.

Apps may already track your workouts, your finances, and your temperature preferences, but until now they’ve largely overlooked the most telling data feed of all: your location.

Saga, which is launching on Tuesday, uses your phone’s GPS, Wi-Fi capabilities, and accelerometer to track every move you make—logging the amount of time you spend at each new location in a comprehensive history that can be reviewed with a swipe.

It's like the saying goes: Wherever you go, there you are.

Saga knows that you skipped your daily trip to the gym this morning, where your favorite coffee place is, and how much time you spent at work this week. It knows where your kids go to school and how fast you drive them there. And its goal is to figure out who you are—and what you need—based on all of this.

Of course, any app that uses your GPS has access to this much personal information. What makes Saga an exception is that it makes brand-new use of information you're already used to sharing, then it shows you exactly how it's using it. But why?

"It’s the same question as, 'why do people keep diaries?'" the app's co-creator Andy Hickl tells Fast Company.

His larger vision for Saga is a "Mint for your life" that plots how you're spending time and helps you make better choices. There may, for instance, one day be an alert that goes off as soon as you've worked 50 hours in a week or if you forget to eat lunch.

The app's current incarnation focuses on features that more comparable to Google Now. Like Google’s preemptive search product, Saga displays weather, traffic, and travel information that you are likely to need at the moment.

It also surfaces events and recommendations that are relevant based on your daily movements, popular happenings and, if you connect your Foursquare account, past check-ins. During lunch hour, for instance, Saga suggests lunch places nearby. After it logged my location at a barbershop on Sunday, it showed me another salon down the street to consider next time.

At launch, Saga has hints of Hickl’s bigger vision. An instantly updating graph shows how you split your time between home, work, and other activities, and "experience points" act as rewards for being active and exploring.

Though both these personal analytics and Saga's recommendations are compelling, the app's challenges in courting users are twofold.

For one, there's a bit of commitment involved in getting started. Saga combines location with your routine to make predictions about what you’re doing. But until it learns your routine and asks for feedback, it will miscalculate your whereabouts—telling you, for instance, that you went to a barbershop on Sunday when in fact you just walked past one.

The other hurdle for Saga is an obvious creepy factor, of which its founders are well aware. While it may not be possible to build an app that both tracks its users every move and does not offend anyone's sense of privacy, they've given it their best shot.

Although the app could have accomplished tasks such as figuring out what kind of car you drive based on sound, they opted against turning on sensors like the microphone. They also included a giant on/off switch on the main screen of the app and an option to remove your data from its servers at any point.

Hickl says he's not out to steal personal data, but to make sense of it.

"Our ultimate goal is to tie personal data together not just so you can send it out, tweet it out," Hickl says. "It’s really to make a meaning where we just have data right now."

[Image: Flickr user Bethan Phillips]

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5 Comments

  • Patrick

    I'm not sure if it's a good idea for personal use. With this app, we'll think of ourselves more often than not.

  • Geoff

    Just one question....WHY?

    I understand the value of this app to the Saga developer....I don't get its value to me....do i really need an app to tell me what i did yesterday, last week or even over the last year?  Am i senile already or are we trying to raise a generation of senile teenagers who really do have to stop thinking for themselves?

  • Adevarul

    Talk about Big Brother!  Hey! I just swiped history and found out how many times last week I went to the head and how long it took to take a dump.  SAGA?  No thanks.  Stay outta my life.