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My FitBit Digital Weight Loss Adventure: I've Been Gamified!


Apple and Google are likely to make big social and gamification pushes with their new health apps.

Progress Update

It's been about a month since I embarked on my FitBit-centered weight-loss program, and I'm proud to say things are going well.

My clothes are looser, my face is thinner, and my self-esteem is way up.

From June 28 through July 12, I lost an additional 2.6 pounds, bringing me down to 200.9.

I haven't been under 200 pounds in over four years, so I'm pretty excited to weigh in again this Saturday morning.

I've made a point of staying active. I haven't fallen below FitBit's recommended 10,000 steps per day (about five miles) a single time yet. Most days, I'm looking to hit 15,000.

And with the MyFitnessPal app's calorie counter, I've been able to effectively scale my food up and down with my exercise level.

This was especially helpful on my recent vacation in Las Vegas, which included fat-filled adventures at Denny's (NASDAQ:DENN), Red Lobster (NYSE:DRI), and my new favorite, Egg & I, where I had a giant sausage-and-cheese omelet served between beautiful thick slices of French toast. It was heavenly.

The Addiction

So what's new since my last update on June 30?

Well, I'm addicted to my FitBit. One of my fitness goals was to use an app to build myself up to doing 100 push-ups, but that kind of went out the window. I just forgot. 

But I can't get away from my FitBit. I'm even starting to arrange my schedule around it.

When it was time to fly back from Vegas, I got to the airport an hour early so I could walk. This past Saturday morning, I left home for a barbecue three hours early to make sure I got at least 10,000 steps in beforehand. I did the same thing on Sunday before going to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

And what happened on July 7 when I forgot my FitBit in my hotel room? I got in a lot of exercise that day, but I'm still really irritated that I lost out on recording something in the neighborhood of 10,000 steps. Looking at this chart just make me furious:

My permanent record is ruined.

I think my FitBit addiction is helping me live a healthy lifestyle, but I fear I'm catching the social media sickness. You know, the idea that unless an event is digitally documented, it may as well have never happened. I know one thing: There is a narcissistic bent to my FitBit use.

I tend to shy away from social media bragging, but I did set the FitBit app to auto post my results to my Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) accounts:

Ironically, my Twitter avatar shows me at Red Lobster, ready to devour a whole mess of pasta and fried shrimp after inhaling three of those perfect Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Whatever progress I lost there was worth it.

I've Been Gamified!

What is gamification, exactly? Think about how Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) made its Xbox gaming platform a success. It wasn't purely through franchises like Halo. The real key was its Xbox Live gaming platform, which had extensive community features and an achievement system that rewarded persistent and successful play. Likewise in Activision's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty series, repeat play is encouraged through an unlock system. The more you play, the more experience points you earn, giving you access to new weapons, game options, and higher online rankings. Gamification is the use of these types of game mechanics (reward systems and achievement acknowledgements) in non-gaming environments. 

The gaming parallels in health-tracking devices like the FitBit are obvious. Complete a clearly stated goal like walking 10,000 steps a day, and and be recognized with a real achievement (like a lower weight), or a virtual one, such as one of these badges:

Nike's (NYSE:NKE) Nike+ running app is another successful example of gamification within health and fitness, but the concept has worked in other industries as well.

Website-building-service DevHub saw a massive increase in user success after implementing gamification features that gave rewards for completing tasks. Before the initiative, just 10% of users finished their sites. After, it went up to almost 80%.

Starbucks' (NASDAQ:SBUX) My Starbucks Rewards encourages customers to pay with a Starbucks Card or mobile app by awarding stars that can be applied toward free drinks and refills. Over $4 billion was loaded onto Starbucks Cards last year.

And of course, there's the legendary McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) Monopoly promotion, which has been running for over two decades.

Gamification can be a great way to boost engagement. Humans like to be assigned goals and be rewarded for achieving them -- even when the rewards are completely virtual, like leveling up in World or Warcraft or getting a badge for walking 30,000 steps in a day. And there is some scientific evidence that complements all the positive anecdotes floating around.

Earlier this year, researchers from University of Tampere and Aalto University in Finland released a paper entitled Does Gamification Work? -- A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification.

The authors found that, "According to a majority of the reviewed studies, gamification does produce positive effects and benefits," as measured by outcomes like participation levels on Q&A websites and content quantities on company social networks. 

However, to an extent, the jury is still out. Some studies showed that the positive results may be short-term, and that there were some methodological limitations in some studies, like small sample sizes.

I expect that as the two next big things in digital health and fitness roll out -- I'm talking about Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Fit and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) HealthKit -- we'll see a heavy promotional push for social and community features that allow users to share data, compete, and encourage each other.

Nike+, FitBit, and others have proved the concept has merit. The next step is for them to be directly integrated into the core Android and iOS experiences.

So the question becomes, will third-party health-measurement apps be pushed to the side?

It's tough to say.

But I know I'm not giving up my FitBit any time soon. It's part of me.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

Related: Google and Amazon Duke It Out in the Grocery Aisle

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