Posts Tagged 'tunnelling'

Confession is Good for the Soul

Training Plan
Not doing very well am I? 6.03km down, 67.97km to go. As my Nike+ training plan cheerily reminds me, with the end date of my training plan on the 31st January, that puts me currently 63km behind. And it all started so well.

I’ve really enjoyed the Nike+iPod experience though. Running with music is great (still trying to decide what my “power tune” should be), the kilometre countdowns in your ear are genuinely encouraging, the half way point (again spoken through your earphones) is handy – if like me you run in a straight line and then back again – and I did find myself that little bit more encouraged when I’d broken a personal best (admittedly easy when you’re just starting out). The only thing that’s really annoying is when you go for a run after midnight, then upload your data to the Nike+ website but it doesn’t count towards your training plan because it falls on the next day…

But I can’t use that excuse for a deficit of 63km. The reason for that is that I’ve been recovering from a bit of flu with a particularly long tail. But now I’m suddenly, wonderfully, better.

So I can either run 17km tonight, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Or I can give myself another month.

By the way, if you use Nike+, do join the team of which I am labelled “coach”, but am actually floundering second from bottom of the leaderboard.

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Example #2 – Real Time Energy Displays

Energy consumption in the home is invisible, which becomes a social problem when it accounts for 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Part of the problem is that it takes a certain type of person to find beauty in a traditional electricity meter, and they are usually hidden away; installed inside cupboards or above eye level and never looked at.

Enter a broad range of persuasive products; some simple, some sleek, some designer and some made by the so-called iPod of Cleantech, that all try to reduce consumption by making energy visible. The majority of these products rely on a current sensor that clips around the main electricity inlet to a house (although this press release suggests that some may be more sophisticated) and wirelessly transmits the energy data to a portable and hopefully beautiful object that sits on your coffee table and constantly displays it.

How do these real time energy displays (as they have become known) attempt to persuade people to reduce energy consumption? All of them employ self-monitoring (in a similar way to Nike+iPod) to help people become more attuned to how much each of their appliances are consuming and are enabled to make intelligent decisions. Mention of “reward points” suggests some of them employ aspects of tunnelling, like an energy coach might. The more advanced real time energy displays have also seen the potential of the internet, and use (or are planning to use) social networking to create communities around energy consumption, adding surveillance to the list of persuasive techniques. Lastly, real time energy displays function as simulated cause and effect scenarios, allowing people to turn on and off appliances, and see from the display how much CO2 would be emitted each year if they continued to consume energy at such a rate (it is a personal disappointment that none of them are yet hooked up to a climate change model that shows how this would correspond to sea level rise or ecosystem shift… if anyone knows of a climate change model with an API – do let me know).

Real time energy displays are one of the highest profile of products that could be considered persuasive technology, after they had a brief brush with environmental policy in the government’s draft energy bill of 2007, which required energy suppliers to provide such displays to those customers that requested them (as a precursor to a roll-out of smart meters, which are a slightly different kettle of fish). The government engaged suppliers, consumers and OFGEM in consultation and carried out a cost benefit analysis and impact assessment which concluded that given the evidence for such products, the policy would not be cost effective. The requirement was dropped from the bill, illustrating the requirement for robust and quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of such persuasive technology, and also the difficulty of comparing the effectiveness of different displays when effectiveness hangs on the interaction design (and the persuasive power).

So what evidence is there? Studies are thin on the ground and spread over many years (dating back to the oil crisis of the 70s) when interaction design was less advanced, but the most credible review of the literature suggests savings of 5-15% can be obtained by giving people direct feedback of energy consumption. Further tests of real time displays are currently under way (some in conjunction with smart-meter trials) in 8,500 households in the UK and more across the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the savings may be even higher; approaching 40%.

However the real time energy display story ends, they may prove to be a landmark case for persuasive technology and behaviour change.

By the way, in addition to making energy visible via real time energy displays, there are also an abundance of conceptual products from the Interactive Institute that are well worth a look.

Example #1 – Nike+iPod

This post has been updated with more info regarding the need for expensive running shoes – see note at the bottom…

My Nike+iPod

My Nike+iPod

Do you exercise enough? What could encourage you to do it more regularly? Nike+iPod might help. It’s a brilliantly-conceived product/service from two colossal design-led brands. It hooks on to existing behaviour and clever technology to make the user experience as natural as possible, leverages the people-power of the web, and uses several persuasive techniques to encourage people to just do it a little bit more seriously.

The product side of Nike+iPod comprises a sensor that slides into the cavity under the insole of your Nike+ running shoe and an add-on for your iPod. The sensor is an accelerometer (the components that make Nintendo Wii remote controllers work) that senses the motion of your feet. Pulses that correspond to your movement are transmitted over a short-range wireless link to the iPod add-on, which logs the pulses and aggregates them to form data about your run.

The product is only half the Nike+iPod story though. Nike have used the web in a similar way to the makers of internet enabled games consoles to form a massive competitive community website. Once you’ve recovered from your run and had a look at your data, you can upload it to the Nike+ website to see how you compare with people all over the world. You can challenge them to compete with you too if you’re feeling combative, or just check out what the top running power tune is – can you guess what it is?

Of course the main behaviour that Nike+iPod encourages is the purchase of expensive running shoes (the cheaper Nike trainers don’t have the sensor cavity), but how does it do at persuading people to run more? Let’s look at which of B. J. Fogg’s persuasive techniques it uses.

The most obvious technique employed by Nike+iPod is self monitoring (simply allowing people to monitor their behaviour by making that information available to them); the training logs that build up over the weeks let you see how you are improving. During your run, self monitoring on a smaller scale is also given by a voice in your earphones that counts off the miles. Operant conditioning (rewarding the right behaviour – disappointingly there are no punishments for walking) is also used; at the end of your run you get a message of congratulations from Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe or other authoritative athlete (Nike+iPod acting in a social role to persuade). That may sound naff, but from the few times I’ve been persuaded into running by an enthusiastic friend, I would take kind words from anyone – man or machine – during the post-run collapse-on-the-floor period.

The idea of tunnelling (submitting yourself to a difficult process, analogous to someone checking themselves into rehab) is also drawn on; the Nike+ website lets you choose a training program for your running and set goals or undertake challenges. Also, an aspect of surveillance is used; the social network side of the Nike+ website allows you to compare your stats with other runners (and other people to see your stats), or challenge your friends to beat your time.

Do these techniques actually work? I’m going to suggest a simple experiment. I’ve occasionally thought it would be good to get less chronically unfit, but although I’ve been for the odd scamper, it’s never become regular enough behaviour to do any good. Over the weekend I bought a Nike+iPod kit which I’m going to start using. I’m not pretending it’s robustly scientific, but during the next month or so I’ll let you know whether using Nike+iPod helps me make go running more regularly.

If anyone wants to join me (“share the motivation, multiply the performance” as the website says), I’ve started a team on the Nike+ website. Sign up or leave a comment if you want to play (you can still play even if your trainers don’t have the Nike+ cavity with one of these thingssee update below).

Update – Monday 8th December at 14:00
A couple of people have asked about the expensive shoes issue – although Nike would like you to buy these, third parties are offering kits that let you clip your Nike+ sensor to your existing shoes. Although I linked to Runaway above, after a bit more research, the best of the bunch seem to be Marware’s Sportsuit. Buy it from Amazon here.


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