Dev looks to web to help diabetics with crowdfunded app

People’s health is increasingly tied up in technology backed by the web. That’s the case in more than one sense with The Diabetic Journal, a project by developer Nial Giacomelli. The developer is looking for funding on Kickstarter to enable the realisation of his project, which will subsequently be released as a free app for iOS (and perhaps later, Android), backed by web services for sync and export functionality. It’s also found favour with some of those in the web industry, such as Cameron Moll and Jeffrey Zeldman.

Giacomelli spoke to .net about his app, and the importance of the web from a funding and data perspective.

.net: What does your app do that makes it unique?
Giacomelli: The Diabetic Journal is an iPhone application that attempts to bring diabetes management up to speed. Since starting the project, I've had emails from countless diabetics who, like me, have found the majority of applications currently available to be poorly designed and difficult to manage. As a diabetic, my disease takes up so much of my life that I wasn't prepared to waste any more time than necessary keeping track of my diet, blood sugar levels and daily activities.

I decided to create an application that made adding entries incredibly fast. To do this, I developed a technology I'm calling Smart Input, which analyses your medication habits—the type of medicine you take, the time of day you take it—and uses that information to fill in essential data for you. With most diabetic applications, you need to key in which medicine you're taking and how you're taking it—whether it's an injection, a pill, from a pump, etc.—but our application is able to determine that information for you. It cuts the time taken to add entries down to seconds.

.net: You’ve mentioned on Dribbble that good design can potentially help save lives, and so how does your app approach aesthetics and usability?
Giacomelli: Visually, the application is quite different from any other diabetes management software out there. Instead of tabular data, I wanted to come up with a design that could be quickly scanned, but also offer enough flexibility to give specific entries a greater significance. I found knowing your blood sugar on a specific date and time is interesting, but having enough context to know why is what's truly helpful.

That same focus on usability can be seen throughout. When I sat down to work on the concept, I asked myself that question: 'Can good design help save lives?' and I think that's something that's resonated with people. We've had support from big names like Jeffrey Zeldman, Cameron Moll and Louie Mantia. It's not just diabetics who can see the value in the project.

.net: Why did you decide to fund through Kickstarter? What do you feel are the benefits of utilising the web in general for this kind of project?
Giacomelli: I made the decision to fund through Kickstarter because of its altruistic nature. It became clear to me early on in the campaign that a number of large charitable organisations were unwilling to show support because of competing interests. By Kickstarting the project, I'm able to provide a totally free application with absolutely no financial obligations. It's given the project a clarity and focus that I don't think I would have found through traditional funding.

Ultimately, I'm just a diabetic who got tired of waiting for someone else to revolutionise the way I manage my disease. It turns out I wasn't the only one. They say you should write what you know, and I think the same goes for code!

.net: Your project page mentions back-up/restore via Dropbox or iCloud, but will this be a sync or something manual? How are online web services useful to this kind of app?
Giacomelli: Perhaps the most important aspect of diabetes management is sharing the data you collect with your healthcare provider. As such, we're taking steps to make sure that the process of syncing and exporting data is as simple as possible. I think that Twitter's recent tweet archive feature is a great example of allowing data export in a way that champions exploration. I love that I can download my entire Twitter archive and search it in a visual format. Ultimately, I think there's a great value in supporting data export in a flexible way. The information we give an application should never be held to ransom.

Web service integration and third-party API support is an increasingly important feature for any mobile application. Services like Twitter owe much of their success to a healthy third-party ecosystem, and I think that health management is no different. Our application allows users to track exercise regimes, and so it stands to reason that we should be able to grab that information for the user from services like FitBit.

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