Easy M: Experience Sampling with Smartphones

Since launching Emotion Sense, I have received a number of e-mails from people who would like to conduct studies or build apps that collect similar kinds of data:

  • Momentary Survey Responses: answers to questions about the moment that the person is in. How happy are you? How focused are you? Where are you? Or, indeed, any of the other kinds of questions that are typical of the experience sampling method.
  • Smartphone Sensor Data: it is increasingly well-known that smartphones have a variety of sensors that can be used to characterise a person’s behaviour and environment. Here is a paper (pdf) that I wrote about that very topic. What are a participant’s GPS coordinates? What are their calling and texting patterns like? And so on.

The main challenge, however, is building this kind of software. This takes time, money, and a lot of programming/design effort: precious resources that are not widely available. Moreover, it is impossible to ‘use’ the Emotion Sense app for anything other than what it was built to do: collect data about positive/negative mood (via the very specific questions that we have chosen) while taking users who download the app on what we have called a ‘journey of discovery,’ as they unlock feedback screens while they use the app.

In essence, Emotion Sense isn’t useful for others who are interested in doing similar kinds of research. There are two directions that I can take this: (a) building new, specific apps on a case-by-case basis, or (b) building a new, generic app that tries to suit the broad needs behind doing this kind of research. While I am pursuing both of these paths, this post is about the second, (b).

I have spent a few months working on a new app: Easy M. The app essentially takes all of the pieces of the Emotion Sense puzzle (indeed, it also uses the same open-source code) but has reshuffled everything into an app that can suit others’ needs. The idea behind this was to build an app much like the fantastic MyExperience toolkit, which unfortunately is only available for ‘old’ Windows Mobile devices.

The Easy M app is now online on the app store, and we are soon going to launch the first studies that use this tool. The way this works is (hopefully) simple: your users download the app, put in a code for your study, review what it is they are joining (in terms of data collection) and after giving their consent, the app automatically reconfigures itself to do everything you need: ask the questions that you want, and collect the sensor data that you would like to focus on. Once your study has run its course, the app logs your users out of the study and makes sure that any pending data gets sent up to the servers.

The online documentation includes most of the details about what this app can and cannot do. In particular, there is currently no way for you to use the tool without getting in touch with me, so that I can set up the appropriate configuration files for your needs; the data also comes to our servers to then be transferred to you. As I develop the tool, I hope to add many of the missing bits — for now, I’m interested in hearing from you if this is the kind of tool that you would like to use in your research.

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