SEATTLE – Self-tracking wristband gadgets and Smartphone “life-logging” apps are gaining popularity. A University of Washington research team wanted to study if the tools are helpful with your diet and fitness goals.
James Fogarty, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, and Sean Munson, an assistant professor of human centered design and engineering, surveyed people who regularly track their movements, sleep and diets with Smartphone apps like Moves and Saga and tracking tools like FitBit, MyFitnessPal and Sleep Cycle.
The team says where these tools succeed are by empowering people, great motivators and good at giving you feedback on how you're doing that day. The study found people had an easier time meeting their personal goals when the data was more visual.
“Where these apps and gadgets aren't very good at are helping you figure out how to do better when you're behind on your goals, or what successes to repeat when you are doing well,” said Munson.
Bottomline, Munson says people want and expect more but complain they have a tough time making sense of all the data.
“Personal activity tracking is getting more robust and there are more applications to choose from, but people often don’t get any value from their data, because you can’t see it displayed over time or in a larger context,” said Fogarty. “We think visualizations like these are the future of how people will look back at their own data to find meaningful or actionable information.”
Munson and Fogarty are working on visual tools they can eventually share with web and app designers to improve the technology.