At a surface level, the mobile fitness app RunKeeper may seem like a narrow or simple use case—its primary purpose is to help runners and fitness enthusiasts track, measure, and improve their fitness. But when an app like RunKeeper is used by almost 30 million people and over the course of five or six years, that simple use case can evolve into something much more powerful, one that uncovers valuable insight into the overall health of the population.
As Jason Jacobs, CEO and founder of RunKeeper explained to the audience at the Gigaom Structure Data conference in NYC this week, he and his team have been able to identify various trends based on users’ behavior and activity patterns. And it’s exactly this type of insight that hospitals or doctors could leverage as part of a patients’ overall care.
“The seeds are being planted,” said Jacobs, who along with Gigaom CEO Paul Walborsky hosted a CEO Morning Run on the second day of the conference. “We can empower people to self-manage between doctor visits to live better lives not just once a year after a checkup, but every day. And the data can be a powerful tool to inform doctors how to give better care.”
Large fitness retailers and pharmacy chains are also exploring more creative ways to encourage smarter lifestyles. An example: loyalty programs that award members points for healthy behavior. “Incentives can change people’s behaviors in a sustained way,” said Jacobs. That’s why RunKeeper is currently running its own promotion with partner Pebble to give a $25 discount on a Pebble Smartwatch to anyone who runs at least a 5K before this year’s Boston Marathon on April 21.
RunKeeper also encourages users to lead an active lifestyle by keeping its data open. “Users are in control of their data,” said Jacobs. They could, for example, link RunKeeper with other third-party apps that manage food intake or sleep patterns. This way, their calorie count for the day would automatically adjust based on the activities tracked in RunKeeper.
When asked if RunKeeper had plans to build its own hardware, Jacobs said, “We have no aspirations to. Just working with the actual data under the hood is hard enough, and when you try to do both the hardware and software side of it, it gets to be a lot to tackle.” For RunKeeper, it’s better to do one thing well—and when it comes to using big data for the greater good, they company is certainly meeting that goal.
To learn more, watch the video below or read the Gigaom article.