The Eatery is a beautifully designed new iPhone app that helps you report what you're eating and have its healthfulness rated by other users of the system. Built by former Firefox UX guru Aza Raskin as the first release from his new company Massive Health, the app promises to make your eating habits easy to track and thus to change. The service captures data about when and where you ate well or poorly and serves that up in visualizations. Massive was co-founded by Raskin and CEO Sutha Kamal.
Not everything in the world may be suitable to crowdsourcing, though. I ate a container of soy yogurt this morning and while nine people have said it was healthy, three said it was not. Why? I have no idea. Do I care about their nutritional assessments of my meals? If they are making the same stabs in the dark as I am to rate other peoples' food on a scale of one to ten - I'm not sure I do care about other peoples' uninformed opinions. So far I don't think this app is as good as a number of alternatives.
Fooducate or the calorie tracking goal-based social network LoseIt - those are effective quantifications of health inside a social context if you ask me. Tracking the gut-level judgement on a scale of one to ten, from own and the ignorant opinions of others? That might be interesting in theory, but in practice I'm not convinced.Give me the bar-code scanning data of
I don't think processed grains, diet soda or most meat is very healthy. You might think my black coffee is less healthy than tea. Are they? I honestly don't know, but I just clicked to rate 50 peoples' habits this morning on the Eatery app.
The company says that it will be able to discover other additional and more useful information in aggregate. That sounds promising and it wouldn't be the first instance in which a particular data point has far less value than loads of them together.
A "veggie sandwich with blue doritos and water" - how healthy is that? On a scale of one to ten? I guess that depends on what kind of bread it is, how many condiments were put on it and why not lose the Doritos if you're worried about it?
"While straight-forward crowdsourcing may not seem like the best source of healthiness of a meal, here's the true power of what's possible: We're already doing interesting things behind the scenes; and as we accumulate more data, our algorithms get smarter," Raskin says. "We crowdsource with people who have similar eating goals, which quickly increases accuracy. We also know whether any one person rates well or poorly. That means, if I rate erratically or poorly, your vote counts much more than me, since you're good at rating. When big data meets crowdsourcing you get something much more powerful than simple votes."
The Eatery strives to make food tracking easy and simple, but I think too much is lost along the way. Hopefully that will change over time, though.