Case Study: Bad Data and the Group Fitness Challenge

Case Study- (1)This summer, my company sponsored an online fitness challenge for employees and contractors through our not-to-be-named wellness vendor. The goal of the challenge was to see who could get the most minutes of movement over the 35-day challenge period. Any sort of movement counted; you just either had to connect a fitness tracker for an automatic data dump, or manually enter your activities.

The challenge was easy enough to participate in, so I signed up. All I had to do was connect my Fitbit account to automatically log my activities. I also selected a team (somewhat randomly) to affiliate with, and logged in periodically to check my progress. I noticed early on that something was funny about the leaderboards. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to win, but I know from the social component of the Fitbit dashboard that I tend to be in the top 25% of my friends for steps. Yet I was consistently falling quite low on the corporate leaderboard.

It soon became apparent that there was a data error somewhere along the line; some participants were either having the same data counted multiple times, or were otherwise experiencing an upload glitch (or, possibly, were cheating without the system validating their data, although the motivation for this is unclear). Once I realized there was no legitimate way to advance through increasing my activity, I lost interest in the challenge.

When I got the email notification that the challenge had ended, I decided to check out the company leaderboard. I think it pretty clearly captures the problem:

A leaderboard whose top you just can't reach, at least not with valid data. Anything resembling a real name is blacked out to protect the innocent.
A leaderboard whose top you just can’t reach, at least not with valid data. Anything resembling a real name is blacked out to protect the innocent.

Talk about a competence-depriving experience! An engaging challenge offers ways for people to improve their performance by trying new tactics, increasing their effort levels, gaining more proficiency, or some other means. None of these avenues were available to participants in this challenge, not with a guy in the lead who averages just 99 minutes of non-activity per day (how does he sleep? Does he eat while walking? Isn’t that a choking hazard? SO MANY QUESTIONS!).

There’s little doubt that the lack of competence support in this particular challenge comes from a data integration error. It’s a great example of how a technical glitch can negatively impact user experience–and why our IT colleagues are important partners in engaging users.

2 thoughts on “Case Study: Bad Data and the Group Fitness Challenge”

  1. A few jobs ago my workplace had a similar challenge. There was no fitbit integration and you had to log in every day to input data. No way to go back once a day ended. As such, I missed tracking activity for a whole week of vacation where I walked nearly all day in France, and was just as unmotivated and annoyed by the process as you feel.

  2. Bad data or algorithms kill the experience! I recently have been experimenting with Addapp… The problem is that my Garmin data is not syncing with Apple Health… The outcome… Addapp is telling me to get moving..(I run long distance and do not track my other workouts). Ugh. No insights. Just frustration

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