Massive Health Builds an App for Healthy Eating; Think Foodspotting Meets FitnessKeeper

11/2/11Follow @wroush

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the idiosyncracies of your condition—whether it’s testing your glucose level more consistently if you’re diabetic or watching your blood pressure if you have hypertension. But we really wanted to learn faster and ship software to a broader set of people. We were getting requests like, ‘Hey, I’m not diabetic but can I go play with your software?’

Eating is probably the most important of the four axes when it comes to getting and staying healthy. We asked, is there anything good in the eating world to help you, and the conclusion was there is not. There are a bunch of apps in the App Store that are more about recording what you ate rather than helping you eat better. They are asking the wrong question. You might say ‘I’m having a burrito’ but you don’t have good data on what’s in it. Or it might be brilliant at taking a picture of a barcode, but here’s a pro tip: if you are trying to eat better, don’t eat stuff with bar codes. If what I really care about is helping people eat better over a prolonged period, I don’t necessarily care about any specific meal. What I really care about is how you are eating day to day and month to month.

The Eatery represents a bunch of hypotheses we have about making delightful experiences. I can get up in the morning and grab my BlackBerry or iPhone and it makes me smile. I can get out of the shower and put on my beautiful watch. I can go into my garage and get in my car and it makes a rumbling growl that gives me a moment of delight. There is nothing in health that does that. So let’s rethink how we do food tracking. Let’s build something where all you have to do is pull your phone out of your pocket, take a picture, and say how healthy it is. And we give you access to the people you care about, so that your friends can rate your meals and you can see what they’re eating. The thesis is that you could build something really delightful that tightens the feedback loops that we talk about so often. We’re going to test a bunch of these hypotheses really quickly so that we can learn from people without having to wait until we have the diabetes app perfect.

X: You’re portraying The Eatery as an experiment. Does that mean you might turn it off at some point?

SK: From the gist of the conversation we have seen already, we know we are not going to turn it off. Are we going to get some of the interactions wrong? Absolutely. But this is a place where we are expecting to learn a lot. There are some ideas that we think are going to be awesome, and some ideas that we will be surprised by.

X: You guys do talk a lot about “tight feedback loops.” What is the loop that you’re trying to reinforce in this case?

SK: When you start to write things down, your awareness increases dramatically. When you have an app like this, which makes [meal tracking] even simpler than writing things down, it makes awareness easier, and it also helps you discover patterns and trends that you wouldn’t have discovered. That’s fundamentally something you didn’t have an app for before. You might get an insight as specific as, whenever you eat lunch later in the day, you tend to eat unhealthier food

X: Are users supposed to discover those patterns for themselves in the summaries, or are you doing some additional analysis for them?

SK: Bits of both. We do these rollups at the end of your first day, your first week, where we gather the information into this beautiful, fancy experience where it says, “Here is what happened this week.” There are also times when … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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