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Product Review: FitBit (but this post is secretly about libraries)

This is the FitBit after a 5 mile walk
This is the FitBit One after a 5 mile walk

This isn’t normally a product review blog. Nobody sends me free samples (including FitBit). But I kind of want to write about the FitBit One because it connects to some of my library-related thoughts, recently, and because (spoiler) I really, really like it. And I know it isn’t technically the latest and greatest FitBit has to offer—they have that new wristband, to compete with the Nike Fuel. Or is that not out yet? Anyway, I looked at wristbands and ended up going with the One. It was the right call, for me.

First off, before we get into the interface, I want to say, the hardware is really well designed. I’ve always found pedometers annoying. Drive over some bumps? It counts as steps. Change clothes? It counts as steps. But I’ve watched the FitBit One really closely and not found that to be the case. It’s also got an altimeter in it and can count how many floors you’ve walked up. (For people who don’t understand my reticence to finally commit to biking every day in the summer: my house is less than half a mile from, but at least 50 feet above, the bike path. The hill is super steep and right at the end of the commute home. Hate it.) The little case it goes into is fairly rugged and clips easily onto a bra strap (yeah, checking my progress throughout the day is awkward :)) or pants. It will go for days on a single charge, which is extra good, since it has a function to measure your sleep—so there’s no good time to have it off for charging, really.

The sleep wristband leaves something to be desired, though I understand how they decided to design it that way. I think I’ll crochet a replacement.

You're awesome, too, Fitocracy!
You’re awesome, too, Fitocracy!

Where it’s really, really good is in some of the interface decisions the designers made. Like Google and, more recently, Fitocracy, it manages to do a couple of stupid little tricks that make you really like it and like using it, which, in the case of a fitness device, translates to motivation. First off, it has that flower, as shown in the picture above. It starts out really little, with maybe one leaf, in the morning. If you are really active, the flower grows. If you stop being active, the flower shrinks over time. It’s dumb, right? A digital flower. But it totally works. You want that flower to be healthy. (Or, well, I do. This might be less about product design than about my psychology. I can live with it.) Also, if you leave “chatter mode” on, then every time you pick it up, it will say something like “You rock Coral.” This is the same kind of trick Fitocracy uses throughout their website—seriously, their “confirm” button says “I’m Awesome.”

These products make you (well, me) happy. They engender confidence, trust, and affection. I have actual affection for my FitBit (and Fitocracy and, yes, Google). And it makes me wonder: what do we need to be doing to get our users’ affection? How do we make them happy?

This is obvious, but academic libraries would have to really let go of the snobby ivory tower “we must always be professional” attitude, for one. Can you imagine suggesting an “I’m awesome!” button somewhere on your website? (If so, congrats!) I … can’t, really. Not yet.

That said, in my library, we’ve made some great progress. We’re allowed to be fun on our social media accounts. When a squirrel gets into the library, we post photos. Almost everything we post is done in an informal, conversational tone. I don’t know if it’s enough to make our users happy. I don’t know if they feel affection for us. (How do you measure that?) But even if we’ve made progress on Facebook and Twitter, I suspect that our users’ happiness disappears shortly after they get to our website. Some of that, we can’t really control: even Summon is a boring, sometimes confusing tool, and it’s the very best thing we offer them. But some of it we can. We are so very formal in our how-to guides, our instructional videos, our policy pages (OK, maybe we can’t avoid that), and even our study room booking page. We’re not actively unfriendly (usually—we’re working hard to remove negative language throughout the site and our signage), but we aren’t friendly, either. We don’t come across as human. And while we might not want to employ stupid tricks like an “I’m feeling lucky” button on a search box or digital flowers to help users make progress on research, I feel like it is within our reach to come across as human. Maybe we can maintain the affection we’re trying to garner via social media for just a little longer?

I guess I’m not proposing any specific changes, here. I’m just thinking in public. But sometimes, by writing something down, it helps you commit to that train of thought. And I would really like to commit to making my library—the website, which I have a lot of sway over, as well as our other services, which I do not—into a place that earns, or at least does not snuff out, our users’ affection.

Published incommunicationhealthlibrarianshiptechnologyusabilityweb 2.0


  1. I measure affection based on the responses we get from the public. At VPL, we’ve been really careful to take a more conversational tone on social media than we take on the rest of our website, and when it comes to posting the silly things, we definitely get more traction than we get from our typical library-esque postings.

    However, these days I’m wondering if affection is enough. People generally have a good feeling about libraries. I want to see if there’s a way to push people toward wanting to use the library, actively choosing it above other sources when they have a choice. Any thoughts on that?

  2. I guess I see the two as following from one another. If people genuinely like the library, that will make them more likely to use it (the same way I won’t miss a day wearing my FitBit, and I enjoy logging into Fitocracy). We’re less critical of things we like, and we come back to them more often.

    Part of the reason my library tries to be so friendly via social media is to get our students over the instinct to be intimidated by the library. I kind of want to start profiling people who work in the library, on Facebook, to help humanize us further–maybe get more people to be willing to approach our Reference and Circulation desks. (This isn’t a new idea, but for an example out in industry, I think ThinkGeek does a good job of humanizing themselves, using posts about their employees. And a number of other tactics.)

    But it sounds like maybe you disagree–do you think affection (even in its broader sense, where it includes trust and confidence) isn’t enough?

  3. I don’t disagree, I just think they’re slightly different, yet closely related, aspects. I’m thinking of the recent Pew Internet Life study that came out recently that mentioned that while people generally have a favorable view of libraries (“A library is a great thing to have”), usage statistics don’t really match our approval ratings. That’s what got me to wondering if desire could play a part in the way we market and talk about libraries.

    In the book Neuro Web Design, Susan Weinschenk talks about the ways to tap into the unconscious reasons behind people’s actions, and appealing to someone’s sense of desire is a big part of that. Apple was really good at this in the past: sure, you can buy any mp3 player, but there was a certain cachet about having an iPod once upon a time. Similarly, we each have a Fitbit, but there’s something extra special about Fitocracy that keeps you coming back. They’ve tapped into your need for validation (psychology!) and by tapping into that, they’ve made you happy.

    How do we, as librarians, get to happy? How do go from merely filling a need, to becoming part of the person’s self-image?

    Does that make sense?

  4. I kind of think we’re asking the same question, just phrasing it differently. Or looking at different aspects of the same question.

    I agree that general warm fuzzy feelings about “libraries” aren’t what we’re going for; we want people to have affection for their library. Investment in it.

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