Fitbit will get you off the couch

Advanced pedometer + personal Web site = fitness?

Bob Walsh

Bob Walsh is the co-moderator of the the popular Joel on Software Business of Software forum and a consultant to startups and microISVs. He writes a blog at 47hats.com, and is the author of two books, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality and Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them.

Bob Walsh
2 min read

For years, celebs and CEOs have the luxury of having a personal fitness trainer shadow them, tracking their activity levels, urging them along so they look better and feel better than the rest of us. Fitbit won't provide you with your own personal trainer, but the tiny clip-on wireless motion sensor/recorder may be the next best thing.

Introduced today at TechCrunch50, the small, wearable, $99 device records and then transmits to the Fitbit server an encrypted stream of motion data. Your motion data. The server translates the recorded movement into exercise intensity levels, calories burned, sleep quality, steps and distance. You don't have to do anything.

Click the button on the Fitbit Tracker you're wearing and you get an icon back telling you if right now you're living up to your fitness activity plan. Click it again and you get chapter and verse, or in this case calories burned, steps taken, and distance covered.

This is not your mom's pedometer. You wear the Fitbit Tracker 24/7. It knows when you've gotten a good night's sleep; it knows when you took the elevator instead of walking. Combined with entering your food intake at the Fitbit web site and you have the type of complete fitness picture only the very rich or high-tech Olympians have had until now.

What's more, at the web site which will be up and running when the first Fitbit ships late this year or early next, you'll be able to share your fitness plans, and your data, with others.

Bob Walsh

The scary side: If you thought corporate keycards and RFID tags that can rat you out were an invasion of privacy, those were the warm-up acts. Or maybe not: you're the one who decides for the sake of that (hopefully small) potbelly you're forming from too many hours in front of your laptop who gets to know what you're doing to reduce it. Furthermore, the company says data between the tracker and the web site will be encrypted, that you set your privacy settings there, and they will not share user-identifable data with 3rd parties.

Can FitBit really make tracking fitness so simple that people will change what they do and therefore actually improve their health? "The goal of Fitbit is to make people more aware of their overall wellness, and to help motivate them to set and achieve their personal fitness goals," the company's CEO, James Park, said in an e-mail. "We created the Fitbit Tracker to be effortless and easy to use. By automatically collecting data, and wirelessly updating this information to the Fitbit Website, the Tracker can seamlessly blend into everyday lives, and empower users to improve their overall wellness."

The company has promised me an evaluation unit when they're available; as unsettling as it will be, I need to lose some pounds, and all the usual ploys, diets and pills haven't cut it, so I'll be making my own personal bargain with Fitbit later this year.