FollowMee along OpenPaths


"Give. Me. The data."

That's what many Quantified Self adherents said back in 2011 when Apple admitted that they accidentally had their phone save a database of geopositional data over recent past months. Apple promised to delete most of the database in the next update.

That bug didn't sound bad to me, it sounded awesome! I grabbed that database as quickly as I could, and looked for a service to continue the geoposition scraping so I could implement a location predictor.

The service OpenPaths appeared quickly on the scene. It's a project from NYTLabs. It's free, and a major benefit is that:

Users can securely store and manage their personal location data, and grant researchers access to portions of that data as they choose.

That's quite the magnanimous service! Neither the users who run the app nor the researchers who gather the data are paying anything for the service. We're users, but we're not paying customers. The NYTLabs must be running it out of the goodness of their own hearts, and the users and researched are indebted to them.

The downside became apparent pretty quickly. As there are no paying customers, the service doesn't get a lot of monitoring or attention. API calls can take a minute or more. Sometimes they fail, and sometimes the service simply goes down for days. The only appeal we can make as users are emotional appeals. We have no financial leverage.

Given that I'm not the customer of OpenPaths, but my data is the product, I went searching for a redundant service where I am the customer. I came across FollowMee, another app with the same feature set. It's a paid service, and the developer is responsive on their bulletin board. I've installed it as a backup and potential replacement for OpenPaths.

There's a saying that generally holds true of online services:

If you're not the customer, you're the product.

That's why I'm running both the free service OpenPaths, to share my geopositional data with researchers, and the paid service FollowMee, for some assurance the service will work while I pay for it. I'll continue to run FollowMee along OpenPaths while they both do their respective jobs.

Photo by Axiraa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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