Run Or Else motivates by threatening your wallet

Fred Trotter (@fredtrotter) has been working in health IT for years, gaining a reputation as a health software expert. He wrote the first O’Reilly Media book about health IT, “Meaningful Use and Beyond” (click here to read reviews or buy from Amazon), and is a contributor to the O’Reilly Radar blog (@radar). During a recent interview, Fred explained why he built his Run Or Else (@runorelse) running motivation service, who should use it, and how he took advantage of the Health Graph (@healthgraphapi) and RunKeeper Elite in its implementation.

Bill Day: Why did you create Run Or Else?

Fred Trotter: Writing software to help doctors and patients is a worthwhile pursuit. But at some point I realized that if I really wanted to make a difference in healthcare I needed to start coding solutions for people to stay healthy. Run Or Else is my first public experiment with this idea.

BD: What is the “elevator pitch” for why someone should use Run Or Else?

FT: The shortest way I can describe it is “Run Or Else helps motivate people to run consistently”.

Run Or Else is designed for people who would like to be runners, but are not yet. Running as a healthy behavior is only valuable if you do it consistently over long periods of time. But if you do manage to run consistently over long periods of time, the health and lifestyle benefits are enormous.

Run Or Else helps people to run consistently by creating a simple mental hack: Tricking yourself into assuming “I have to run.” With Run Or Else each user chooses a weekly running or walking distance goal, and an amount of money to risk if they do not go that distance. Then they user RunKeeper (or something that feeds the Health Graph distance data) to track their runs. We then use the Health Graph API to download that data and automatically calculate whether a user has kept their self-commitment. If a user has gone their distance, nothing happens. If they have failed, then we charge their Paypal account.

The idea is to make it expensive not to run.

BD: How did you get started using the Health Graph API?

FT: I have been experimenting with it since it first came out. I have been thinking of building something like Run Or Else for a long time. When the Health Graph was released it became obvious that it was the perfect tool for Run Or Else. It solved the really hard problem of gathering the running data on more than one mobile platform (iPhone and Android in particular). The Health Graph hands Run Or Else the right data on a silver platter.

BD: How is using the Health Graph benefiting Run Or Else?

FT: Run Or Else would not be possible without the Health Graph. Well, perhaps it would be possible, but it would really suck.

Let me re-phrase: Without the Health Graph, Run Or Else would not be worth it for me to try and build it. I still would have tried to build something to do with incentivizing healthy behaviors, but I would not have focused on walking and running without the Health Graph.

BD: Which portions of the Health Graph API do you use, and why?

FT: I use the activity history, and I filter it for running, walking, or hiking. All three of these count towards the user’s Run Or Else weekly distance goal.

BD: What do you like about the Health Graph? What would you like to see changed?

FT: The Health Graph is really clean and simple. It provides me with a perfect window into the behaviors that I want to measure.

I believe the “ownership of the data” type issues in the API terms of use really need to change, but that is something that I believe will be addressed. [Editor’s note: Shortly before this profile was published, we expanded Health Graph user data export capabilities dramatically to include all activity and measurement data, at least partially addressing Trotter’s concerns.]

BD: If you could request any new feature from the Health Graph, what would it be? How would you use it?

FT: Honestly, you guys are moving faster than I am. I was thinking it might be nice to have more “social” features through the API, but then you invited me to beta one of your newer social features, the Healthy button.

BD: Can you tell us why you chose to have an initial RunKeeper Elite-only beta release?

FT: There are several reasons for this.

First we are entirely dependent on the Health Graph. Besides any money we make through the RunKeeper Elite Affiliate Program, the program helps us to be sure that the Health Graph platform as a whole is funded and sustainable.

The second reason is that it puts us in a position to leverage the most advanced features of Health Graph API across all of our users. We want to build the ultimate running motivation application, and to do that we need to build on the ultimate running tracking application and RunKeeper Elite gives us that.

It is also pretty cool that it helps RunKeeper. Our app would not be possible without RunKeeper’s deliberate decision to release a clean and open API for activity tracking apps (among other things). Building and supporting an API like that is expensive, and it is important for us to make sure that RunKeeper has an incentive to keep doing that.

We plan on launching our site for all Health Graph users as soon as we have learned the initial lessons from our Elite users. As we consider the RunKeeper Elite choices, it becomes obvious that for some apps, being RunKeeper Elite-only may be a good long term funding strategy. For us, we are going to make sure that there are eventually features in our app that only RunKeeper Elite users can get. So we will have a parallel freemium business model alongside RunKeeper.

BD: Can you share any future plans for your app? What’s coming next that your users will be excited about? Does the Health Graph play a role in that, and if so, how?

FT: We have grand designs for Run Or Else, but our Elite-only launch was the first time we could get feedback en masse. We will start the next iteration of coding after we’ve accumulated enough feedback from our initial Elite-only users. The Health Graph will always play a significant role in our future plans and several of our “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas are directly tied to Health Graph features that we do not yet leverage.

Again, Run Or Else is entirely dependent on the Health Graph working: There is no “backup plan”, without Health Graph data, we really have no application.

BD: Is there anything else we should know about you or your application?

FT: We are trying to create a system that sustains running motivation, and that means more than just a financial incentive.

The most important tool we give users to sustain their motivation is their status page (you can see my status page by clicking the “demo” link at runorelse.com).

Your status page gives you access to the same underlying data that the RunKeeper interface does, except with one important bias: Your weekly distance is what matters, not your individual runs. So we show much less data then we get from the Health Graph, because we are trying help users track running/walking motivation, rather than just running.

RunKeeper’s FitnessReports will always give a much better display of a user’s detailed running and other health and fitness data. The RunKeeper web interface shows all of the things that a regular runner might care about like pace, path, elevation, etc. This is great for someone who is already running consistently.

With the Run Or Else display of the same data, you are getting a different report card. You are getting a report card that tells you, at a glance, whether or not you are a “runner”. We will be adding features around this display soon, but it is really the second big motivator in the system besides the financial incentive.

Bill Day (@billday) is Platform Evangelist for RunKeeper where he helps developers learn about and use the Health Graph.

Advertisements

Coachya connects coaches and athletes with the Health Graph

Avi Grabinsky (@avigrabinsky) is working to make sports coaching easier for both coaches and athletes. Read our profile of him and his Health Graph (@healthgraphapi) integrated application, Coachya (@coachya), for more on how he’s doing it.

Bill Day: Please tell us about yourself and your work.

Avi Grabinsky: My wife and I (pictured together below) founded Coachya as a bootstrap start-up. We came across the idea of creating a web platform for coaches after training for several triathlon teams.

It seemed odd that many coaches use spreadsheets to handout workout plans, email for feedback from athletes, and checks for billing. So we defined a solution to cover all that in a simple and friendly platform. Both of us are engineers (I’m an Electrical engineer and my wife is an Information Systems engineer). We greatly enjoy working on the site and watching our customers use it. I am mostly involved on the product aspects, while Michal, my wife, handles the marketing side.

BD: What is the “elevator pitch” for why someone should use Coachya?

Coaches use Coachya to easily coach, manage, and bill their sports teams and athletes online. Coachya puts multiple online activities which coaches use under “one roof” in an extremely easy to use web application.

Athletes can train with a team, a coach, or by themselves on Coachya and plan their future workouts, watch their stats, share workouts with teammates, and more.

BD: How did you get started using the Health Graph API?

AG: I’d heard about RunKeeper from friends, used it a couple of times, and come across the Health Graph API through blog posts. It struck me that it would be a great idea to me to connect Coachya to the Health Graph as it’s a win-win for both of us.

BD: How is using the Health Graph benefiting your business?

AG: The Health Graph API saves Coachya’s athletes the time of manually entering their workouts into the system. It also provides instantaneous feedback to the coach on his/her athlete’s workout.

BD: Which portions of the Health Graph API do you use, and why?

AG: Coachya currently reads in workout data (mostly totals) and presents it to the athlete and his/her coach.

BD: What do you like about the Health Graph? What would you like to see changed?

AG: Once I understood how to work with the API, it was very easy to query new node types. I think the API is very “clean” and nicely structured. It seems to work really well.

That said there are a few things I think could improve it even more. I’d like to see more examples provided in the major scripting languages (PHP, Ruby, .NET). It would also help if the FitnessFeed contained additional singular parameters such as Note and Climb. Not having those parameters forces me to fetch “Past Parameters” which is quite huge.

BD: If you could request any new feature from the Health Graph, what would it be? How would you use it?

AG: Apart from the above, it might also be nice if there was some a push mode instead of the pull mode that is currently available.

BD: Can you share any future plans for Coachya? What’s coming next that your users will be excited about? Does the Health Graph play a role in that, and if so, how?

AG: Coachya’s main value is its ease of use for both coaches and their athletes. We plan to make it even easier to use by adding functions such as the ability to search for library workouts, copy and paste workouts, and more.

Additionally coaches will soon be able to publish and sell their workout plans to athletes and we intend to do it differently than what’s available today on other sites. Athletes will also have more graph types available to them to track and analyze their past workouts.

Bill Day (@billday) is Platform Evangelist for RunKeeper where he helps developers learn about and use the Health Graph.


We’re hacking the Health Graph, and you’re invited!

Our team at RunKeeper is very excited to see all the wonderful things that developers are doing with the Health Graph! We want to help you make 2012 the year that you blow the doors off innovative Health Graph powered apps, services, and devices.

To that end, we’re sponsoring and participating in several hackathon and hands-on style, code-level events throughout the year. And you’re invited!

First up is a U.S. bi-coastal doozy: We’ll be onsite speaking about and helping developers use the Health Graph at AngelHack, the nationwide hackathon competition, March 3rd-5th. We’ll have people in both locations, San Francisco and Boston, to help you get up to speed and hack cool things together using the treasure trove of health and fitness data available from the Health Graph.

If you’re from the New York City area, we’ve got you covered too: We’re chartering a bus to drive developers up from NYC to participate in Boston, so NY hackers, come on up!

We’re so excited to see what you can do with the API, in fact, that we’re going to sweeten the usual pot of AngelHack prizes by offering a prize specifically for the best use of the Health Graph API: $500 USD plus promotion by us of your app, once it’s completed and deployed into the RunKeeper app directory, to our entire 8 million registered (and growing) users. We’ll feature you in a Health Graph blog partner profile and get out the word via our Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ channels.

We are also proud to sponsor and participate in the Health Hack Day hackathon weekend scheduled for May 18-20 in Stockholm, Sweden. We’ll be there speaking about the Health Graph and meeting developers from all over Europe interested in developing health and fitness related applications. Watch this space to learn more about Health Hack Day.

Are there other places you’d like to see us go this year? Please fill out the short form below to let us know. We hope to see you soon!

Bill Day (@billday) is Platform Evangelist for RunKeeper where he helps developers learn about and use the Health Graph.


Sleepy brings Health Graph sleep tracking to Android

Italian developer Massimiliano Fanciulli (@fanciulli) is building his Sleepy Android app on top of the Health Graph (@healthgraphapi). Read our discussion below to learn more about this Health Graph partner and how he’s taking advantage of the Health Graph API to give people a free tool for tracking their sleep.

Bill Day: Please tell us about yourself and your work.

Massimiliano Fanciulli: I’m a Software Engineer and I work in Pisa, Italy, the city with the leaning tower. I like developing Android apps in my spare time and I’m the creator of the sleep tracking app Sleepy.

BD: What is the “elevator pitch” for why someone should use your app?

MF: Sleepy can be used to track your sleep cycle. I made it freely available and as simple to use as possible so that everyone could track their sleep easily.

BD: How did you get started using the Health Graph API?

MF: I started as a RunKeeper user. At first I simply needed to record physical activities and RunKeeper helped me track my running. It was very motivational. As soon as the Health Graph became available I started playing with it. Sleepy is my first app which uses it.

BD: Which portions of the Health Graph API do you use, and why?

MF: I use the Sleep and the Profile portions of the Health Graph API. I use them to store new data and display related data about the user.

BD: What do you like about the Health Graph? What would you like to see changed?

MF: The Health Graph is well structured and covers most of the data that describe your fitness and workouts. It is a powerful tool for building an app, letting you to focus on the logic and not on data storage and management.

I appreciate its attention to diabetic users. It would be great to have new portions of the Health Graph covering other physical aspects and conditions so that new applications could be built allowing users affected by other pathologies to track their workouts and optimize their health in the best way possible.

BD: If you could request any new feature from the Health Graph, what would it be? How would you use it?

MF: Callbacks and push messages should be added to the Health Graph so that apps can be notified by the platform when updates occurs. With these, for example, a developer could build an app which notifies you in case one of your friends starts a running workout near you. Very useful! [Editor’s note: The Health Graph does support a authorization removal callback today, but does not currently provide push notifications of the kind Massimiliano mentions.]

BD: Can you share any future plans for your app? What’s coming next that your users will be excited about? Does the Health Graph play a role in that, and if so, how?

MF: I’m receiving great feedback from the Sleepy Google+ page. People seem to be very interested in the app and they’re joining the page and contributing. I’ll continue to develop some of the features those users are requesting. For instance, I added support for manual posting of data in a recent Sleepy update.

Bill Day (@billday) is Platform Evangelist for RunKeeper where he helps developers learn about and use the Health Graph.


Get more readers for your content with the Healthy button

We’ve launched a new web-based plugin, the Healthy button.

The Healthy button enables Health Graph partners and content providers of all kinds to easily and quickly embed the button in websites and web applications, allowing people interested in fitness, nutrition, and related healthy content to share articles and websites through their RunKeeper FitnessFeed. You can see an example of the Healthy button in use by one of our partners, GE Healthymagination, below.

The Healthy button is important because it allows people to share health content selectively with their friends who also care about health content, rather than with their entire social graph.

The Healthy button also provides developers with a powerful (and free) way to reach a whole new audience that is interested in health and wellness, driving new visitors to health related blogs, sites, and other online resources.

Anyone interested in sharing healthy content can also add a Healthy bookmarklet to their browser and share anything healthy, anywhere they find it on the web, to their feed. Click here to read about the Healthy button, grab the bookmarklet, and visit some of the partners getting Healthy via the RunKeeper.com blog announcement.

Details for embedding the Healthy button in your content are available from the Healthy button partner page in the Health Graph developer site. Key bits:

  • Code for embedding the Healthy button is available here
  • There are some meta-tags available to provide more information when a user marks a piece of your content as healthy; get the details here

With millions of registered Health Graph users and a quick and easy integration, why not give it a try?

Please let us know what feedback you have as you try the Healthy button out yourself. Thanks, and happy healthy sharing!

Bill Day (@billday) is Platform Evangelist for RunKeeper where he helps developers learn about and use the Health Graph.