I'm Maarten den Braber: co-founder of QSgear, freelance health+tech advisor and productivity geek

Presentation Nyenrode Business University (March 26, 2013)

Below are the links from my presentation at the Nyenrode Business University. Missing something we’ve discussed there? Get in touch with me on Twitter or by e-mail

» Learn by doing

» The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do :zenhabits:

Learn by doing. Don’t learn by reading. Of course, a little reading is helpful, but if you read, just read a little, then do. Don’t learn by talking. We talk too much already. Start doing, and if you’re going to talk, talk while doing. In the doing, you learn what gaps you have that are stopping you, you learn how there are steps you don’t know or haven’t figured out. Then you take action to fill in those gaps, figure out the steps, and keep moving.

True words by Leo Babauta. For me it means blog then read. Not read then blog.

State of self-tracking by Pew Internet

The e is for engagement:

What if we redefined the Quantified Self movement to include everyone who keeps a pair of “skinny jeans” in their closet? What if the 85% of U.S. adults who own a cell phone understood that it’s potentially a tool for health tracking? What if everyone designing health care tools first talked with patients and caregivers about what they need, instead of making assumptions, without input?

Excellent article by Susannah Fox from the Pew Internet Project about the state of self-tracking and enagement in health. Some of the highlights from the survey of 3,001 American adults of 18 years and older:

And about the effect of self tracking on health decisions:

Also there is an interesting observation about the possible impact of health apps. Because of the intimacy of apps there is a real possibility that apps (for self tracking) can evoke people to ask questions they normally wouldn’t ask their doctors.

QS devices

For my presentation at Hackers and Founders Amsterdam (thanks for the connection Taco) I pulled a @scobleizer (presentation-by-browser-tabs). As I’m working on QSgear I decided to focus on the upcoming startups working on QS (hardware) devices and sensors. The companies I mentioned are listed below. Want to know more? Join our QS Amsterdam Meetup and don’t forget to sign up already for QSgear to be notified when we launch!

Mobile health and Online Help

I was asked to give a presentation at the Online Hulp Congres (#coh2012) about mobile health and online help1. I gladly accepted the possibility to explore a new domain connected with mobile and digital health and the ability to share my experiences and views on the domain from a QS perspective.

I experimented with not using any slides but stating my point by just giving lots of examples and using this blogposts as the outline. If you were there and would like to give feedback on whether you liked that format, please let me know!

Trends: apps, sensors and Big Data

During my research in the field of online therapy I have focused on 3 parallel trends in the digital health space and how the field of online help. Those trends being: (mobile) apps, sensors and Big Data. I’ve listed examples to illustrate each of these trends and reflected on the state of this trend for the online help professional.


There is little argument about the impact of mobile on the markets for health and healthcare, reports are abundant and news about new initiatives is daily practice. Just one look at the Health (and Fitness) categories of the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store gives a view on the breadth of options available: from mood tracking to medical reference apps and everything in between. Looking at the spectrum of online help and help four major categories of apps emerge:


Apps giving the user information regarding mental and/or fysical conditions and often offer guidance on how to act or what to do. These apps are possibly the most abundant as they are relatively easy to make. More often than not they are just digital version of existing (paper) information leaflets, but sometimes they offer specific mobile elements, such as the distorted vision option of the Zien App or the children’s game with the Naar Het Oogziekenhuis app.

Tests / assessments

Online tests and assessments are widespread practice in online help. Some of these tests have now transitioned to the mobile. Some of them take advantage of mobile opportunities (such as the Huidmonitor app), but most often they are simple digital checklists. The value of mobile tests and assessments is the focus (one test - one app), the possibility of reaching more people. But the question at the same time is: how are you going to reach those users and explain that you have to install an extra app?

Support / coaching

Apps offering users support through coaching, motivational instructions or the ability to connect with peers often through chat or message systems as an extension of other (non-mobile) platforms. Modalities such as chat or messaging are often used that tie in to existing (web) platforms. It should also not be overlooked that existing platforms such as SMS or WhatsApp yield interesting possibilities and a low barrier to use for many.

Activation / exercise

Mobile devices can be used to ‘nudge’ people to be active or exercise. This can be for specific conditions are more general purposes. There are great possibilities for using sensors to give direct feedback to users, e.g. with breathing are reducing stress levels (such as EmWave2 for Heart Rhythm Variation)


Self tracking apps are become available for more and more topics. They take advantage that we have our phones with us every time of the day. Mood and stress are ‘popular’ items to track for online help, but also food, weight and activity are easy to track with mobile phones.


Parallell with the increase of apps there is a second trend on the rise which is especially relevant to everyone interested in health: sensors. There are an increasing number of sensors available that collect a range of interesting data points. This can be done by using the internal sensors (already available in the most phones todays, such as the camera) or external sensors (such as Fitbit activity monitor or the Zeo sleep monitor). People interested in self tracking gather around the world in Quantified Self meetups to talk about their experiments and what they did, how they did it and what they have learned. You can check their website for a meetup group near you.

Internal / existing sensors
External sensors

Sensors offer new ways for online help practioners to gather valuable input from people. The most promising part is that were objective, frictionless input can be gathered (such as activity measurements, heart rate or skin conductance to deduce stress etcetera). Combining this data with subjective measuremements can yield new insights for individuals and groups.

Big Data

The increased use of mobile apps and sensors offers the possibility to measure, collect and analyze increasing quantities of data on a personal and an aggregated level. A perfect example of this is which collects data from participants both actively and passively. The video below shows a glimpse into the possibilities of this to stir your brain:

Opportunities and pitfalls

The rise of mobile brings a wealth of new possibilities for online help professionals - and pitfalls to go with that. Online help has many different faces, but more general I think the follow remarks reply to the domain as a whole:

  1. Mobile is not simple extension of web - cater for the different characteristics (screen size, location, time spent) and interactions
  2. Design counts. Think about interaction. Build prototypes. Test.
  3. Take advantage of existing channels: SMS, WhatsApp or use data from more widespread apps
  4. Make use of direct participation with users (nudging, feedback)
  5. Objective and frictionless data gathering (through sensors) makes possible for personal and aggregated data visualizaiton, analysis and feedback
  6. Use data for treatment: use online tools (mobile tests, information apps) to connect with the physical world (appointments, treatment sessions)

  1. I’m not sure what would be a correct translation of the Dutch Online Hulp. Quite literally it translate to online help, but often online therapy or online care is meant (as well). Probably it doesn’t matter what you call it as it seems to be more of a container, just as the ever vague eHealth… 

Fitbit Zip

So Fitbit just1 soft launched what seems to be the successor to their (nameless) Fitbit device: Zip. There is no official press release or statement on Twitter or Facebook yet. See photos (tnx Sonny!) of the whole set below.

Fitbit Zip package

Sonny Vu tweeted he has picked up one at Best Buy2 today for $60 (at that that time the website apparently wasn’t even up yet). I’ve not yet got to see the device up close yet, but these are my thoughts. I will update as soon as I get my hands on one of a device.

So what is new?

The biggest change in terms of “how this thing works” must be the wireless syncing. Slowly Bluetooth Low Energy seems to be making its way to health and fitness devices (which is one of the main uses it was originally inteded for,as outlined by Nick Hunn in this 2010 Mobile Monday talk already). I think BTLE together with the lower energy consumption (coin battery) ultimately makes the devices much more useful. My biggest gripe with these devices always is either no data is getting in (because the device is not charged) or not getting out (because I’m not able to sync, e.g. when on the road with just my phone). That’s one issue Fitbit now seems to be solving with their new device.

The change from a rechargeable battery to a replaceable 3V coin battery is interesting. The continuous recharging of these devices quickly becomes a nuisance and can ultimately lead to discarding the device. The 3-6 months advertised lifespan seems okayish, for a continous monitoring device that includes BTLE.

About the design: they have clearly tried to improve the current build quality by adapting a new form factor. With the previous Fitbit, the fact that it consisted of so many individual parts meant that were many possibilities for breaking or tearing it (especially in the middle at the bend of the device). Mine broke quite soon (yay for Sugru though!) and from the batch I imported to NL in 2011 I think about 50% already has displaced their device or had problems with the build quality.

I’m curious to see if the Zip “clips” better than previous devices. I didn’t use the hard plastic case they provide, but I might now use the silicon/flexible case they provide with the Zip (as it is also the only way to clip it to anything now). The Zip is even smaller than the previous devices, which might be a good or bad thing (depending on how/where you wear it probably4). I’m curious to see the first hacks of people simply integrating this device right into your shoe or other clothing or jewelry (watch, anyone?)

The blue LED display has been replaced by a more dull looking LCD display (where not more information seems to be displayed). I was actually a fan of the previous display as it had this certain “wow” factor if you showed it to people (“oh so it has a display also”). And with the display off it looked rather clean. Now it just seems like a more cheap Tamagotichi-like device and has certainly lost ground on the cool-factor compared to the previous devices and other devices like the Nike Fuelband.

Altogether I do think the Zip is a nice step forward compared to the current Fitbit. True, it still doesn’t look as well designed as the Nike Fuelband - it more seems like an incremental innovation of the current product, rather than a whole new concept. I would have love to see a whole new formfactor (more “wearing” instead of “clipping”) and possibly some integration in e.g. clothing. But nevertheless I like these gradual improvements enough to at least pick one up an try it out.

Now I’m just wondering when/how Fitbit is going to officially announce this device…

  1. I’m seriously curious if the timing of this soft-launch and the occurence of the QS Conference is coincidental or not… 

  2. Apparently Best Buy had a product page up for the Zip, but it gives a 404 error now 

  3. Yes, this sucks for the environment I know. I’m not sure if anyone can give me numbers if the environmental costs of recharging are actually better or worse than replacing a coin battery? 

  4. I know Joost Plattel normally wears the device around his neck and others clipping it to shoes, bras or other things than the “normal” jeans pocket 

Sharing your raw health data

During a brainstorm with Intel Research at the QS Global Leadership meeting the topic was “Can we make a system to query each other’s data without accessing each others raw data?”. It was an interesting discussion where I came to learn about two projects (openSNP and Wikilife) that are already providing an infrastructure for doing such a thing1.


openSNP allows customers of direct-to-customer genetic tests to publish their test results, find others with similar genetic variations, learn more about their results, find the latest primary literature on their variations and help scientists to find new associations.

I’m going to research this project some more to check out if I can also share my own 23andme data. Also interesting: it’s now apparently also possible to use openSNP to share your Fitbit data. You can follow the co-founder Bastian Greshake at @gedankenstuecke


Wikilife is a revolutionary global, non-profit project aimed at collecting and sharing global health & lifestyle data using an anonymous open source platform.

This one also has an interesting app to direct log health, food, mood and more to their platform.

  1. Well allmost then, because these projects are especially about querying each others raw data. The suggestion of Intel Research was only to allow non-raw data to be shared, so for one you would be more in control of what would be shared an how. 

On Organizing Succesful Meetups

Today was the first day of four full days of Quantified Self events at Stanford (with the QS conference taking place over the weekend). It all got kicked off at the beautiful Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with a QS Global Leadership session. It was really great to (finally) meet so many QS organizers from all over the globe!

One of the subjects discussed was the format and goals of QS meetups. One of the most important takeaways for me from this meeting was: “The most valuable ideas are probably created in the most informal settings”. I’m sharing the rest of my takeaways from that session below. Some of it might be specific to QS meetups, but in general I think a lot of interesting and insightful remarks were made that apply to organizing succesful meetups in general.

  1. Larger groups are not neccesarily better models for other (smaller) groups
  2. People will copy what they see that is presented, if they see others sharing, they will more easily tell their own story
  3. Remember that people might come to your meeting not for the content, but more to connect with others
  4. Don’t allow to run your meetup over time. Never.
  5. The real magic happens after the Show & Tell, so do allow for that!
  6. There a great oppportunities for matchmaking individuals during the event based on their different technical skills
  7. The location of the event largely influence set the athmosphere and the type of event
  8. You can have previous presenters do updates of projects they presented on before
  9. There is a fun and real opportunity to disrupt other events and communities from within by organizing some kind of “inside” or “pre” event similar to barcamps and unconferences1

All this triggers a few thoughts and ideas about the organization of the upcoming QS Amsterdam meetups. Maybe we should focus more on smaller scale, more intimate meetups (dinners, bar meetings?) and put interaction between attendees more on the forefront. Do you have suggestions? Let me know @mdbraber.

  1. This very much reminds me of the good and fun times that were had with Nexthealth 

Mapping the health+tech space

FastCompany Co.Exist:

[Michell Zappa’s] most recent visualization maps the next three decades of health technology, charting how regeneration, augmentation, diagnostics, treatments, biogerontology, and telemedicine will change over time.

Excellent job. We are going to need a lot more of these initiatives to make sense of the future of health+tech. Recently also Zak Holdsworth (WellnessFX) has made a good overview of the current field of digital health companies (it’s around 13:50 in the Youtube video of his presentation). It will be especially interesting to see how combinations of these different technologies will merge into more interesting complete solutions.

Let’s continue exploring

In the acknowledgments of my master thesis in 2008 was an image of my two favorite two cartoon heroes: Calvin and Hobbes. It showed C&H racing down the hill on a sled saying: “let’s start exploring”.

Well, since then a lot has happened. I’ve dabbled in events organization, WiFi geekery and startups. To ultimately come back to what I love most: health+tech, now co-founding QSgear and as a freelance advisor.

From today onwards, I’ll share here with you my insights and random bits on things that inspire or trigger me, probably a lot of them in the Quantified Self space. You can expect mostly links to interesting bits and my comments on them, as well as the occasional long-form article. There’ll be no comments on this website for now, but you can always get in touch through Twitter: @mdbraber.