Fitbit Me

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Back in March of last year, Stephen Wolfram wrote a blog post, The Personal Analytics of My Life. It’s a fascinating look at the data he’s accumulated over years about his own personal activities and habits such as daily incoming and outgoing email.

Since I read that, I’ve been fascinated about the idea of how personal data analytics might prove useful to me. It turns out I found an application to my health.

In my series on The Real Pain of Software Development (part1 and part2), I talked about my history with pain related to work and the various measures I took to remedy that pain including intense physical and occupational therapy.

I neglected to mention was how much difference a bit of weight loss makes. A single pound reduces the force on your joints, back, and other muscles an immense amount over the course of a day, week, or years. I am now more aware of how much pain I feel ebbs and flows as my weight does.

Sometime last year, GitHub gave all of us a Fitbit. It’s a little device that tracks the number of steps you take during the day. It can also track vertical distance changes and if you’re diligent, how much sleep you get. It posts all the data online so you can take a look at your numbers and compare to friends.

It wasn’t long before my co-workers hooked it up to Hubot (just another example of how chat is important to us and is at the center of how we work). Here’s a screenshot of the /fitbit me command which shows the leaderboards for step counts in the past 7 days. I blocked out names for privacy reasons, though I bet the top four would love to be unredacted.

fitbit-me

What I love about this is it adds an element of friendly competition to the mix. There’s absolutely NOTHING riding on this other than pride. Yet, it’s amazing how motivating this is. I now take a long walk to get coffee every day because I want to be up there near the top. And there’s no downsides to that. Maybe it’s the wrong motivation, but it’s definitely the right result. The evidence for this result is in the following.

I also happened to purchase the FitBit Aria Wi-Fi scale because I love me them stats. As you can see from the graph, the /fitbit me motivation is effective.

2012-now-weight

Unfortunately, I injured my knee snowboarding a couple weeks ago and have been sick the past few days so it’s starting to trend slightly up. But since I’ve had the scale, I’ve lost 6.3 lbs overall. This isn’t only due to the FitBit. We recently started a single subscription to BistroMD to supplement our cooking efforts since we both work and I work from home. I’ve found portion control a lot easier when it’s controlled for you.

FitBit can also track sleep, but this is not as automatic as step counting. You have to remember to wear it at night and put it in sleep mode. It’s a bit high maintenance.

2012-sleep-over-time

Also, it seems to count nights that you forget to set it as a day with 0 hours of sleep, which is not really what I want. Based on this graph you might incorrectly assume I averaged from 3 to 6 hours of sleep a night over the past year. Clearly that’s not correct or I’d be a raging hallucinatory lunatic by now. I know, some of you think I am such a beast, but if so it’s for other reasons, not due to lack of sleep.

I hope to be more diligently track my sleep patterns this year to see if there are any interesting correlations between the amount of sleep I get, my fitness level, my mood, and my GitHub contributions graph. Heh.

One thing I wish FitBit did better is provide better graphs for seeing my step counts over time. For example, here’s what I could find to see my step counts over the past 30 days.

steps-over-last-30-days

I’d love to see a graph of my steps over the year in fine detail.

Speaking of step counts, see that big spike in January, that’s the GitHub Winter Summit, our all company meeting in San Francisco. The way that spikes might give you the impression that we’re all health freaks and the summit is a very physical endeavor. Well, maybe.

The following is a breakdown of one of a couple of those days.

2013-01-17-stepsJanuary 17, 2013: 23,285 (approx 10.69 miles)

2013-01-18-stepsJanuary 18, 2013: 24,512 steps (approx: 11.35 miles)

Notice the hours of the big spikes. Yeah, we like to dance late at night.

Notice the big midday bump on the second day? That was a scavenger hunt that took us all around the great city of San Francisco.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the FitBit and like how the data driven lifestyle it encourages has been a net positive for me. Your mileage may vary of course.

Some downsides to the FitBit is that it’s easy to lose. It’s easy to forget about it and launder it. It’s somewhat easy to break. Mine’s survived so far, but not without a chip or two. Also, it requires charging almost every day or at least every other day. Also, I’m not aware of a way to get the absolute raw data even with the premium account.

I’d be willing to pay money to get the raw data and create my own graphs. FitBit isn’t the only personal fitness tracker out there, but it’s the only one I’ve tried and I’m a big fan. I wouldn’t mind trying others, but much like the network effects of other social networks, the fact that many of my friends and co-workers are all on FitBit will keep me tied to it for now.

UPDATE: Looks like there is a FitBit API. I’ll have to play around with it. Thanks to @geeksmeetgirl for pointing it out to me.

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8 responses

  1. Avatar for Paolo Marcucci
    Paolo Marcucci January 23rd, 2013

    I wrote a Fitbit app for WP7 that connects to the server, gets the dashboard data and lets you upload your current weight (before I got the Aria). Let me know if you want some C# code to bootstrap your work :)

  2. Avatar for Levi Corcoran
    Levi Corcoran January 23rd, 2013

    Phil,

    I'm a fellow developer that started to see the toll my entirely sedentary lifestyle was taking on both my waistline and overall health & energy, and have been a FitBit devotee for the past 7 months.  I too craved the raw data, and started exploring their APIs; you can sign up and play around at http://dev.fitbit.com/.  I'm betting Hubot may get some more features in the near future :)  Unfortunately the 'intraday' data (detailed minutely data) isn't available unless you're granted access to the Partner API - see https://wiki.fitbit.com/dis... - but you probably have enough name recognition and clout within their dev team that you could get access ;)

    For a quick and simple option, I also found a script that will pull your data into a Google Doc spreadsheet and can be set up with a timed trigger.  Since I don't have Partner API access (and this relies on generating your own application key/secret under your own developer account), I only get daily data - but this makes it much easier to play with your own graphs and analytics, and keep your own archive of the data.  Check it out at https://github.com/loghound...

    Keep those step counts up!

  3. Avatar for mattmc3
    mattmc3 January 24th, 2013

    I really like my FitBit Zip.  It doesn't require charging (just a new watch battery 3-4 times a year).  I keep it on my belt, as that never goes through the laundry.  It's $40 less than the FitBit One, but it doesn't track sleep or stairs - neither of which were worth $40 to me compared to never having to charge the thing.

    What's the advantage of the $130 Aria scale compared to just manually entering your weight into the FitBit mobile app from a simple $25 scale?

  4. Avatar for haacked
    haacked January 24th, 2013

    Isn't that enough?! ;)

    You also don't have to enter your body mass readings etc. it sends an electrical pulse to estimate body fat. Also, it can detect and sync stats for multiple family members. My wife doesn't have a fitbit, but she can track her wait automatically on fitbit.com using the scale.

    Sent from my mobile phone

  5. Avatar for Lee Keable
    Lee Keable January 25th, 2013

    Their site is having some problems... how I hate the YSOD!

  6. Avatar for firoz khan
    firoz khan March 1st, 2013

     yes goo

  7. Avatar for Stephen Y.
    Stephen Y. April 17th, 2013

    Howdy! I came across this looking for a Hubot script to integrate with FitBit. A few things that are so far a bit disappointing:

    1) Only looks like a handful of folks use the FitBit API on Github, which isn't too surprising as it is a bit of a niche product
    2) The FitBit API supports getting a leaderboard of your friends, but not of the groups you've joined.
    3) I haven't seen a great example of how to seamlessly integrate an OAuth process with a Hubot script given that they are typically provided their credentials as ENV variables. I'm almost tempted to write something in one of their other libraries and just provide endpoints to my Hubot that way.

    Big objectives (for fun) were to have

    `hubot fitbit` - returns a leaderboard for connected users (top 5)
    `hubot fitbit user <user>` - return stats for a specific username
    `hubot fitbit group <group>` - return leaderboard for a specific group (top 5)

  8. Avatar for josh
    josh January 8th, 2015

    What you do today wont have an impact on your weight for about 6 weeks. So those holiday bumps are purely coincidental.