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Health Month Recommended Behaviors, version 1

I worked on the Personalization team at Amazon from 2000-2004, and more specifically on things like “Personalized Recommendations”, “Customers who bought this also bought…”, “The Page You Made” (a page of recommendations based on what you’ve looked at in your current browser session), and “Your Store” basically a slice of Amazon that was entirely build from what we knew about you (what you’ve bought, what you’ve looked at, what product lines you’re most interested in, where you live, etc). The team was a bit infamous within the company for replacing editorial jobs, though some of that was probably not entirely our fault. One thing was true, though: the numbers were in — the computers were better at finding content and products for you (a mashup of customer reviews, new releases, and statistics) than the humans were.

When I read this fantastic article about how the DNA of certain companies spreads out into future companies (their example was Facebook and Paypal), I thought about my own DNA. It was forged largely on that Personalization team. My first project around that same time, for example, was All Consuming.  It’s different now, but at the time it would crawl all 2,000 blog posts that are updated PER HOUR (how times have changed) looking for links to Amazon, IMDb, and a few other online venues that were keyed off of ISBN or UPC.  I created a zeitgeist of what people were reading, right now.  And I created weak-link groups around everyone who was reading the same book as you at the same time, across the early social web.

My DNA is built something like this: use technology to improve real-world experiences.  Whether it be the books you’re reading, or your life goals, or (now) your health habits, it’s all about supplementing core experiences in our culture with cyborg limbs that can some things a lot more effectively than we can alone.

The first signs of my larger goals with Health Month got pushed out over the weekend.  Dubbed the Rule Wizard, it’s the first tiny step towards being able to recommend small tangible steps based on both your own data and the aggregate data of everyone else playing the game.

Some notes about how it works:

  1. At the moment, this is only available to people who are on their 2nd+ month. Right now I’m only using data about your own behaviors in previous months to help you improve your rules for next month.  Of course, there is a lot more that can be done here on the algorithm side.
  2. It recommends you to make your rule more difficult, easier, or to keep it the same depending on how you did with it last month, and will suggest a level of rule that fits your actual behavior.
  3. It will also give you some guidance on whether you should take more rules, fewer rules, or keep them about the same.  There’s a lot more to do here, as I’ve found that sometimes a rule-heavy month is best followed by a rule-light month. But I’m waiting to have enough data to support that claim more solidly.

Baby steps, but just wanted to start talking about this since I think it’s an important part of where I feel Health Month is headed.

Read a bit more about how it works on the Health Month blog.

9 Responses to “Health Month Recommended Behaviors, version 1”

  1. i look forward to seeing how this works — some quick thoughts:

    1) it would be nice to be able to exclude some inputs (there may have been past rules or habits that are no longer at all applicable to you — i notice that in the summary info atop my profile page, where it discusses the # of drinks i have, on average, or the amount of pasta i eat per day)

    2) it would be nice to be able to have it tap into some other data feeds, similar to ‘if this then that’ or many other services (have it sniff your twitter, foursquare, facebook, etc’

    3) maybe offer up some other preference type things (even if they aren’t things that you’ve set as goals within health month yet)

    all things you’ve thought of, i’m sure… should be fun

  2. Healthmonth is awesome!! Buster Benson, I love how you are using your technology skills to help “improve real- world experiences”for so many people. One of my favorite and I think most helpful and unique features of Healthmonth is the fact that it helps one tailor one’s “rules for the month” based upon one’s success or lack of it. For example, I’d started the month with a rule of “45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week” and had a lot of trouble my first week getting exercise. It was a nice surprise to see Healthmonth tell me, “try lowering your goals for next month to something like 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week”. That was so helpfull! It’s amazing how much Healthmonth has already helped me with my health goals and I can’t wait to see how this progresses! Thank you for “rocking my world”!! BTW, I can see so many applications out in the “real world” for what you are doing – this is very exciting!!

  3. I really love where you’re heading with this, Buster. This step is amazing, and will make March’s rules much easier to set.

    I’m also excited about the long-view you’ve hinted at: being able to choose a new-to-you rule and getting recommendation based on your current frequency for that habit and where others at that starting point had the most success increasing/reducing it. (Increasing for healthy habits, decreasing for self-destructive habits.)

    This fantastic game gets better every month!

  4. Buster! I’m such a huge fan of your recommendations EVERYWHERE, but now especially at Health Month. How neato.

  5. Just ran through the Rule Wizard and it seemed to work rather well, it pushed me to do better. However, I didn’t like the fact that I could not set it easier from the Rule Wizard. It would only let me change my rule to keep it the same or raise it to harder levels.

  6. Buster! I’m such a huge fan of your recommendations EVERYWHERE, but now especially at Health Month. How neato.

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