Personal tracking tools, such as Fitbit, can accurately count our daily steps, map our runs, and monitor our health. These tools fall in and out of favor in users’ lives.
According to a study conducted by University of Washington, people abandon self-tracking for different reasons.
Some don’t like what their Fitbit or financial tracking tools reveal, some find collecting data a hassle, and some don’t quite know how to use the information.
Researchers got curious about what it’s like for people after they stop using self-tracking tools. Do they feel great, do they feel guilty, do they feel like they’ve gotten everything they need?
In research presented earlier this year that surveyed 193 people who had abandoned personal informatics tracking, the team found many people experienced no real difference in their lives.
Other emotions, however, ranged from guilt over not being able to keep it up to relief from the tyranny of self-tracking.
Now, the researchers explore how different design approaches may better support people who have lapsed in their Fitbit use.
Researchers suggest that people feel more guilt when it comes to abandoning health tracking, as compared to something like location tracking, which is more of a fun thing that people do for a while and move on from.
Researchers don’t think that everyone should be tracking forever, but they wanted to see if there are design opportunities to better support people who have had different experiences using Fitbit.
The research team surveyed 141 people who had lapsed in using Fitbit. Half of these Fitbit users described feeling guilty about their lapsed Fitbit use, and nearly all of those said they would like to return to activity tracking.
Twenty-one said they got no value out of tracking, found it annoying, or struggled to connect the data to behavior change. Five participants felt they had learned enough about their habits, and 45 reported mixed feelings about abandoning their Fitbit.
In addition, lapsed users responded differently to seeing their old Fitbit data presented in new ways, depending on their personal tracking history.
Participants who had tracked their fitness levels for less than 4 months preferred visualizations that showed them which days of the week or time of day they were active, while those with a longer track record preferred visualizations that highlighted the length of their activity record.
Most people preferred social comparisons that made them look better than their peers, such as “you walked more than 70% of people,” over those that were framed negatively, such as “30% of people walked more than you” – even if the comparisons represented the same information.
The researchers also found that people who felt guilty about abandoning their Fitbit use were very receptive to recommendations that they return to tracking
On the other hand, people who felt they had gotten what they had wanted out of self-tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful.
Researchers suggest that a one-size-fits-all design approach misses opportunities to support different types of users.
Right now self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that’s clearly not the case.
Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they’re done, or reconnect them to the app for weeklong check-ins or periodic tune-ups that don’t presume they’ll be doing this every day for the rest of their lives.
Citation: Epstein DA, et al. (2016). Beyond Abandonment to Next Steps: Understanding and Designing for Life after Personal Informatics Tool Use. Paper presented at Association for Computing Machinery’s 2016 International Joint Conference. DOI: 10.1145/2858036.2858045.
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