January 28, 2007

Biggest Loser Club: Old Media Failure

Filed under: Media, Technology, Weight Loss — Tom @ 5:38 pm

Old media really doesn’t understand the web. And the squandered opportunities seem to keep stacking up.

I recently signed up and quickly canceled my subscription to BiggestLoserClub.com. As most people who watch any television probably know this is a weight-loss-oriented site tied in to NBC’s Biggest Loser reality show. I’d signed up looking for a more robust alternative to the online tools available at Weight Watchers.

Unfortunately, BiggestLoserClub.com is a perfect example of old media missing the mark. It’s Web 1998. Interactivity? What’s that?

So why do I find this such a squandered opportunity? Well, here we have this reality show and it’s a huge success in traditional media. They have an existing audience that guarantees an enormous amount of traffic to their site (and they worked it, too, pushing the site repeatedly during the show). All they had to do was create a compelling destination to hold onto those people.

Instead, they build something that brings over a lot of the old media model — they’ll send me information and I’ll receive it. The value of the community itself is, as always, undervalued.

For my subscription dollars, here’s what I could do:

  1. Create a profile — weight, height, goal.
  2. Track my weight at weekly intervals.
  3. Get suggested meals. This included the ability to swap out components of a suggested meal and the ability to print a shopping list.
  4. Get a suggested workout. This consisted of listing “Rest”, “Cardio”, or “Strength” for each day of the week. Links would take you to more information on exercise suggestions and some information on how to do the strength training exercises.
  5. Message boards. These message boards were pretty poor; they supported very basic functions. (I get better forums with my City of Heroes subscription — and they’d prefer I was playing the game instead of reading the forums!) The screenshot in the BiggestLoserClub.com tour even sadly shows that most of the boards have zero activity. It’s rare that a website manages to actually depress me.

Old media continues to think they can leverage a brand and get us to buy whatever they’re selling. And they stick to the old tricks to keep us paying, too. Seth Godin discussed the fallacy in making it hard to leave a service recently. This was more of the same — it was just a few clicks and some credit card info to join. Quitting was another story. Try to cancel and you’re informed that you have to call them — and only during a six-hour window in the middle of the day. (To their credit, when I e-mailed support and told them I wanted to quit, they cancelled my account.)

I expect a lot more for my money from a website in 2007. At a minimum, I want to be able to log my food and exercise choices and get real-time tracking of calories in and calories used each day. Instead, BLC provides a journal. A journal! This is one of those choices that make me want to track down some executive and shake some sense into him or her. Big media, here is your free clue — we will not come to your website to do things that are more easily done with paper and pencil. Or a word processor. Or a blog. Or any of a thousand options that are better than a website’s database that I don’t have any control over. And I don’t want to go through a bunch of possible exercises and then find videos of how to do them — I want to be able to fire up a chat session with a trainer and ask what I should be doing.

And the message boards? Why even bother when they’re that bad? I want fully-featured forums — I should be able to flag a thread, choose to get notified when new posts appear in it, and send private messages to forum members who have opted in. But let’s go beyond that — why can’t I pair up with other members? Form individual relationships? Start individual support groups? Where’s MySpace for fat people?

In fact, let’s go all the way — what should a modern, socially-networked weight loss and fitness site look like? I’d better be able to put in what I eat, of course, and track my exercise. Which exercises? I should be able to identify what I own (bicycle or free weights, for example) and have access to (like flagging that I have a gym membership or a pool). Then the site can tell me what exercises I should do when and I can approve them. Now I just log in and say how much time I’ve got and the site can suggest something from my approved list. Thirty minutes — go for a run. An hour — head to the gym and do these exercises.

And then I set alerts — maybe I want a text message or e-mail if I haven’t exercised in 2 days, or logged food in the last 8 hours, or whatever. Maybe someone else should be getting alerts, too, assuming I’ve opted in. Trainers could receive all the data — everyone who hasn’t worked out in the last week, for example — and invite me to a chat session to discuss why I’ve fallen behind and help me find new activities that will freshen things up and get me motivated.

Meanwhile, I can make my profile public and information about my progress available to everyone — members can search for people with similar interests, or goals, or locations and find virtual or physical workout buddies. When I log on after dinner and enter my meal, maybe I see that my workout buddy is online. We can start a video chat and motivate each other to go for an impromptu run or bike ride. Members can also volunteer to serve as coaches for each other — I’d have the option of opening my workout and meal history to my buddies as well. We’d be able to set challenges with each other to inspire ourselves.

For the time being, I’ll be sticking with Weight Watchers online tools and I’ll talk more about why I think they’re a better option within the next few days (and where they still miss the mark). And I’ll be taking some of the fitness social networking sites, like SparkPeople, PeerTrainer, and Traineo.

In the early nineties, I recall critics worried that the Internet and the worldwide web were isolating people and we were all spending too much time interacting with technology and machines. But the lessons learned from those days — taught by the explosive growth of e-mail and instant messaging — are being re-taught by sites like MySpace and Facebook and LinkedIn and ignored by sites like BiggestLoserClub. The lesson that what really matters is not the technology we use but the connections it creates.


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