Fitbit, Klout and your data silhouettes

C-3PO vs. Data (137/365)

I never thought the Fitbit would exactly change my life – indeed, I bought it over the competition precisely because it was the cheapest way to dip my toe in the water of the ‘quantified self’ while still being able to export data that wasn’t in a proprietary system like magic Nikefuel units. (Maybe also slightly out of new toy/ gadget lust.)

But it strikes me that what I’m getting out, while obviously not comprehensive or necessarily even accurate, does have some use to me. It gives me a game to motivate myself, a broad outline of activity and once the data adds up, potentially some interesting patterns to ponder and learn from.

Strangely, one of the clearest signals it sends are days when I don’t do anything. The difference between slightly active and hugely active days is less interesting to me than the binary contrast of seeing which days are a total failure.

Outlines

So what’s the result of this? I’d say Fitbit generates a kind of fuzzy data silhouette of me – a loose summary of my activity that, while not quite the Robocop self-tracking frenzy the trend purports to be, does give me data that I can gain value from.

It occurred to me that Klout could almost fit into this category too. I find all those social reputation tools a bit of a joke – overhyped and oversimplified proprietary snake oil that provides an easy solution and promise to lazy marketers. However, those systems probably can show some of this same fuzziness with ease, or the binary contrast between someone with absolutely no social profile (ONLINE) and someone who is fairly active.

Could you create the same thing? Sure, and I’d argue if you’re smart about it, it’s worth the time. But considering those little scores lurk there for free, whichever service you choose, it may be worth having that fuzzy outline to give you a quick indicator as long as you scrutinise the hell out of it when it really matters.

What’s next?

Jon Silk put together an interesting post about where Fitbit might take things last week and there are some great blogs launching from Ste Davies, Drew Benvie and David Clare at 33 Digital — whose parent company just supplied Fitbits to every member of staff.

Do I think this technology will become more common? Yes. Do I think dedicated £80 devices are the answer? Probably only for the dedicated and they’ll probably take more of the form of KiFit.

For the mainstream, I see the simplest sensors (accelerometer, GPS, altitude, blood pressure etc) appearing more in various devices as just another function — with the real opportunity being the service that underscores them and brings the data together in one place.

And once it’s there, available to tie into any other system like Facebook, Jon’s reality becomes a much more mainstream and practical place. For now, I’m happy just to track my steps alongside the days I’m collapsed on the sofa in a hungover mess. We’ll see where the path goes from there.

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- Max Tatton-Brown

August 15th, 2012