My Nike FuelBand – three months in

Fjord Family

The unexpected pleasures of making data about me


I’m just back from a two-week holiday and am not only lamenting the end of glorious Australian sunshine but also the subsequent dip in my NikeFuel count.

The drop in the score I’m clocking up on my Fuelband doesn’t take a data analyst to understand. I’ve gone from daily morning runs followed by a full schedule of keeping a two year old entertained, to a more sedentary office-bound routine topped up with as much exercise as can be squeezed in.

All in all, from hitting close to 6,000 Fuel points per day, I’m now scraping 4,000 and this really irks me. But why?

Let’s face it, when it comes down to it, the Nike Fuelband, despite being one of the pioneers in the wearables scene, amounts in essence to a fancy pedometer.

Yes, NikeFuel is a standard measure across all Nike tracker services, which means that you can measure yourself against a famous athlete if you can take the morale battering (Lance Armstrong notwithstanding). It also enables you to access, share and revel in your achievements via all the usual platforms. But if like me you’re not in the least bit tempted in sharing your comings and goings with the world, this is by the by.

Some ways in which the FuelBand has not lived up to my expectations:

  • It doesn’t know whether I’m walking nonchalantly to the tube, or sweating it out pumping iron, doing a pilates class, or having a little lie down
  • It doesn’t particularly reward me with anything meaningful…yes the app allows me to see a visualisation of my activity over time, but there’s nothing particularly smart about how it does that
  • It’s missing a trick in not including a stopwatch as a most basic of training tools
  • It’s not particularly attractive and certainly doesn’t go with strappy dresses on sunny days in Australia
  • Unlike the Moves app, it doesn’t try and analyse patterns in activity levels in order to bring more granularity to the day’s activities (travelling on the bus, going to the shop, running, etc)

However, despite these shortcomings, the very fact that the Nike Fuelband only really knows whether or not I’m moving from one place to another is still enough to have got me hooked.

Its saving grace for me is that ‘NikeFuel’ which measures steps as well as movement via a three-axis accelerometer, has a level of ambiguity which enables me to unquestioningly go along with my results. It’s this very ambiguity, which on the one hand frustrates those in search of scientific accuracy, but which in my case, underpins my ongoing perseverance and growing dependence on the thing.

Another exercise in point collection that I’m hooked on is that of the tier and Avios points through the BA Executive club. This is despite the fact that:

  • The user experience for spending Avios points is so terrible as to render them almost pointless
  • Ascending slowly through the tiers to gold membership doesn’t really do much to brighten up the ever dull experience of flying BA

Sure, access to the lounge has its perks, but not enough to really justify choosing BA as airline on an ongoing basis. And yet that is exactly what I do. I still find myself compulsively checking my BA app after every flight to see what points I’ve been allocated.

Each of these companies has managed to tap into some part of my psyche that I didn’t know was there. A virtue which is at the very heart of the philosophy I and my team extol with regards to creating successful breakthrough services; tap into unknown customer need to create services that become intertwined with the fabric of their lives.

Nike in particular has managed, whether by design or otherwise, to tap into a human need created purely by the data drenched times we live in. This is a time when we talk about ‘Living Services’ and see the opportunity from the disruption in digital for us as customers to have more control over our own data whether for banking, shopping or our health.

If our mobile devices enable us to tap into content and services that rely on data we have little control over, then wearables that capture our own self-generated and therefore controlled information tap into a new world of micro-data that we previously haven’t had access to.

What unites both Nike and BA is a layer of ambiguity in how that data is interpreted and fed back to us. This provides the element of surprise that keeps things interesting, which along with a sense of control keeps me coming back to both despite their imperfections.

Fjord Family

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