Crowdsourcing weight loss with iPhone's Lose It

Weight-loss plans often fail because they strand users in what really needs to be a social experience to succeed, but the iPhone's Lose It! app could help to change this.

Eating tends to be a social thing. Dropping the pounds that result from such sociability, however, is mostly a solitary experience, requiring lonely denial in the kitchen and often lonelier miles on the footpath or bike trail. Small wonder, then, that most attempts to lose weight fail.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course, and an application I've been using on my iPhone suggests a way to open-source the weight-loss experience, making dropping pounds a social, fun experience.

Adding calories with Lose It! FitNow

CNET recently profiled several weight-loss applications for the computer, some of which have a social element to them.

It's a good list, but my favorite application by far in this category is Lose It!, a free app for the iPhone.

Lose It! makes it easy to track calories, monitor exercise, and track progress toward weight-loss goals. Because my iPhone is always with me, Lose It! follows me around, too, reminding me how much that bar of chocolate is going to cost me in terms of gym time, facilitating rational calorie intake/burn.

Where Lose It! fails, as do all of these weight-loss applications, is in making this process truly social.

Fixing this would give FitNow, the developer of Lose It!, a serious revenue model that would turn a seemingly universal human desire to look/feel better into a great way to make money.

Here are a few ideas for the FitNow team, several of which Bryce Roberts, a good friend and fellow Lose It! junkie (in fact, it was Bryce's example that got me using the application), offered up while we were mountain biking last week (so that we could gorge on high-calorie foods later in the day :-):

  1. Social calorie database--Lose It! sports a great-but-not-all-inclusive database of foods with their associated caloric contents. Why not let users add up calories and submit these foods/meals to the Lose It! database? Using the open-source/Wikipedia model, users could edit others' submissions, with FitNow providing oversight to ensure a measure of quality control.
  2. Track friends' activities--I like to follow friends' running/biking activities on Twitter. It gives me added incentive to run on days that I might prefer to sit. I'd love to have a feature in Lose It! that sends me alerts when Bryce registers a bike ride or, better yet, connects with his calendar to suggest a time he plans to go so that I can arrange my schedule to join him.
  3. Fine-grained calorie counting--Lose It! has a generic database of exercises and how many calories such activities will burn. But there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all hour of mountain biking. I tend to ride trails that are heavy on the incline, and want to see a more accurate measure of how many calories I've burned. It would therefore be great to have users be able to create their own calculations of calories burned on a given trail, for example, and then let Lose It! triangulate different users' counts to come up with the "right" one.

These are just three ideas, but it's not hard to think of others. Lose It!, by coordinating and collecting data from its different users in open-source fashion, could create a database that would help it to generate significant revenue. Perhaps the basic version comes with Lose It's standard calorie counts, but a premium, subscription version offers access to the wisdom of its (ever-thinning) crowd?

Regardless, such a system would exemplify all that open source is supposed to be, but often fails to attain: software of the users, by the users, and for the users. Most of us can't hack code, but most of us can read product labels and add up how many calories we've assembled in a given recipe.

With such an O'Reilly-esque "architecture of participation," Lose It! could provide the ultimate service--helping people attain and maintain healthy lifestyle habits--while generating the ultimate financial return.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.