Note: This is the first installment of a series on the quantified self. A version of this piece first appeared in ComputerWorld.
When I first got a Fitbit, it was amazing.
My daily dashboard, focusing mostly on a 10,000-step target, was incredibly motivating. Was I hitting the target? Answer: sometimes. Connecting with friends added great gamification. I began making different choices in my daily routine to take more steps. When I lost my first tracker, Fitbit sent me a free replacement. Wow! What more could I ask from this dream company?
Over time, however, I stopped going back to the dashboard as often.
After a year, my Fitbit strap broke. I decided not to buy a replacement. Why? Because Fitbit’s analytics was a dead-end dashboard.
After using a Fitbit for 12 months, I knew what the dashboard would show me each day. I’d learned to be able to sense the approximate step count each day. I no longer need the exact count, and yet I was still making healthy choices to walk more. The dashboard ceased to reveal anything new to me. Having successfully analyzed my steps, I wanted to move on and ask new questions about my daily activity.
For example, I’m more interested now in how much of each day I spend sitting down. Sitting down all day is not healthy; I use a standing desk at work as often as I can. What I want to do is measure how much of each day I spend standing. Fitbit records active minutes but doesn’t display them in a way that meets my new needs. My Fitbit couldn’t adjust to my new data requirements, and thus our happy relationship came to an end. Until I can tweak and adapt the Fitbit dashboard, it is no longer useful.
The Fitbit story is relevant to all visual analytics. Dashboards that don’t evolve don’t get used. Too often, a completed dashboard is seen as a finishing line, not a starting point. All this does is lead to dead-end dashboards. They litter company portals, unloved and unseen. Whether it’s Fitbit data or the finances of a Fortune 500 company, you must consider dashboards as living, evolving things that are responsive to people's changing questions.
Could Fitbit win me back? It could, if it adopts some of the approaches to dashboards any business needs to apply to deliver successful self-service analytics to its employees. Here are three: