GravityEight: A New Online Hub for Wellbeing and the “Quantified Self”

2/17/11Follow @wroush

At 44, I’m starting to understand what’s meant by the old saying that aging is a battle against gravity. But it’s not just tummies, wrinkles, and joints that need more attention as we get older. Holistic health experts say it’s equally important to invest in social connections, lifelong learning, personal finances, spirituality, and other parts of our lives. Today GravityEight, a new startup in Marin County, CA, turned on the beta version of a website designed to help users make measurable progress across a range of these life priorities—eight of them, in fact.

At GravityEight, you can browse original articles and videos on the topics of relationships, careers, spirituality, community, learning, leisure, health, and finance. The more content you consume, the more “awareness credits” you build up. In a nifty bit of game mechanics, these credits eventually convert into virtual merit badges intended as fun rewards. But more important—and more fundamental to the GravityEight concept—are “action credits,” which you can only earn by getting off your duff and doing things in the real world.

The best example so far is visible in the health section of the site, which includes personalized dashboards that help users visualize the data from personal health-tracking devices such as the Nike+ run tracker, the Withings wireless body scale, and the Zeo sleep monitor. If you hit your weekly running goal, keep your weight under your desired threshold, or achieve enough quality sleep, GravityEight gives you action credits, which are more valuable than awareness credits and help boost your health score on the site’s overall “Wellbeing Meter.” That’s a pie-like graphic on the site’s front page, designed to summarize at a glance how your different kinds of wellbeing are balancing out (or not).

If it all sounds a little gimmicky, that’s because it is. Behavioral health experts are learning that just a little bit of positive feedback, even if it comes from a gadget or a website, can give people the motivation they need to persist with behavioral changes. Indeed, that’s one principle behind Nike+ and the whole wave of recent fitness- and health-monitoring devices, and it’s one of the foundations of the grassroots “quantified self” movement sweeping the nation’s geekier sections. (See Luke’s profile last May of Internet pioneer Larry Smarr’s experience as a quantified self. Months after this story, Smarr says he’s amazed at how many people still want him to talk publicly about this experience.)

Dave Wamsley, the force behind GravityEight and one of the founders of the Quantified Self Meetup group in Marin County, argues that “wellbeing is measurable” and says his hope is to create a fully integrated platform where consumers can, in a single view, monitor their quantitative progress across all of the key areas of their lives. If we don’t yet have the equivalent of Nike+ device for monitoring our financial, spiritual, or career progress, then it’s only a matter of time, at least from the quantified-self point of view.

Wamsley is a dot-com-era veteran who’s back for a second tour of duty in the Bay Area. The first began in the mid-1990s, when he founded and led AdAuction.com, an ad exchange acquired by Seattle-based Media Passage, and then started the San Francisco-based Internet incubator Campsix. “We raised $25 million and had a whole team in SoMa, and launched some very successful companies,” Wamsley recounts. “Then we hit that wall, the dot-com meltdown.”

After that, the Bay Area “was a dark, black place for several years.” Wamsley decamped to Tallahassee, FL, where he led K2 Urbancorp, owner of an eco-friendly town center development called Evening Rose that became home to some of the famous Katrina Cottages after the Gulf hurricane. But “starting companies is in my genes,” Wamsley says, and in 2009 or so he started to pay attention to the many wireless health-monitoring devices then coming onto the scene, such as Nike+, the Withings scale, and the Zeo monitor. Eventually, he predicted, these devices would be enhanced with application programming interfaces (APIs) that would allow any software or Web developer, even those outside Nike or Zeo, to tap the data the gadgets collect.

And that’s exactly what has happened, inspiring Wamsley and his wife Cindy to move back to the Bay Area to build a business around the trend. “In the last year, all of these companies have come out with open APIs,” says Wamsley. “So in the next six months, you are going to see an explosion of centralized dashboards which are pulling these devices into a central user interfaces, primarily in health. That’s wonderful and it validates our model—but we’re taking it across all aspects of your life.”

In addition to the high-tech dashboards, GravityEight will also have important social component. Users will be able to form groups or teams who can view one anothers’ profiles and dashboards and provide mutual support. “There is research coming out constantly about how sharing your information with other people can dramatically help you in your goals,” says Wamsley. Indeed, that’s a model already being exploited by mobile fitness app startups like Boston-based FitnessKeeper and San Francisco-based Abvio Fitness (I’ve profiled both).

The site unveiled today, Wamsley emphasizes, is very much a beta version—designed in large part to “show the clarity of the vision of where we’re taking GravityEight” before the bootstrapped startup seeks outside investment. So far, GravityEight consists mainly of its three co-founders—Dave and Cindy Wamsley and medical director Justin Mager, an internist and exercise physiologist who practices at the Clear Center of Health, an integrative health clinic in Mill Valley, CA. As the site gains traction, Wamsley hopes to raise money from individual and institutional investors. Among the top spending priorities, he says, will be to connect the site to more outside data feeds, and to hire general managers for each of the site’s eight channels.

Wamsley isn’t talking yet about how GravityEight might earn money, although some obvious options include selling targeted advertisements and premium content. And he isn’t offering any miracle cures. As with everything else, GravityEight users will only get as much back from the site as they put into it. “One of the problems with the self-help industry is that there are a lot of false promises—lose weight without exercising, make money without effort,” says Wamsley. “We are not about that at all. We are trying to bring the best research and experience to bear on encouraging people to get out and do that run, eat food that is more nutritious, spend more time with your family, get off the grid. But it’s still just about calibration, and helping understand how that’s all balanced.”

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.uptake.com patriciaj

    Looks like a great idea, I will be checking in and checking up on my well being. I just have one question, does a two hour commute lower my score?

  • http://www.gravityeight.com David Wamsley

    Thanks for the positive feedback. Your question is a great one. I’ll have to formally ask one of our MD’s, but knowing Justin, he will probably comment, that he would rather commute two hours to a job he loves, than walk across the street to one he didn’t. Having said that, it’s been nice living close to work and being able to walk across the street for the past year.

    Good luck,

    David

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