Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tweet What You Eat: The New Way To Diet?

Searching the Internet last month, for innovative ways technology can be used in for me to keep up with my New Year diet goals, I stumbled upon a site that I absolutely love! It's called Tweet What You Eat (TWYE). The concept behind this web site is to conveniently create a food diary by using Twitter to tweet what you eat each day. I decided to go behind the scenes and TWYE for one day as well as talk with the creator Alex Weiss.

My "Tweet What You Eat" Diary

9:45 am CST: I created myself a Twitter account today
and followed the steps on the TWYE site to get ready to document my food intake for the day. The directions on TWYE were very simple. After setting up my Twitter account I typed in "follow tywe" into the "What are you doing box?" and clicked update. I made a mistake by immediately attempting to enter my food intake. You actually have to wait for the email to come to your inbox explaining that TWYE has is following you (twye tip: hold on to the edit code that comes in your inbox). So now that TWYE is following me and I'm following TWYE it's time to input my food. Okay, for breakfast I ate 2 fried eggs for 184 calories, 2 sausage links for 184 calories and water. In the "What are you doing box?" I type in "d twye 2 fried eggs:184, 2 sausages:320, water". So far so good!
1:30 pm CST:
Okay lunch time is here. I run to Wendy's and grab a large chili with cheese and water. When I get back to my desk I twitter "d twye Wendy's chili". I start to realize that I am on a low carb diet and I kinda wish I could track my carbs to. I'll mention that to Alex for my interview. But for now, just being able to track my food intake is awesome. Now I need to find how many calories are in Wendy's chili so Google Wendy chili calories and find out that it's 310 calories. So I go to the TWYE website, look up my diary and edit the entry using the edit code that came in my inbox and add the calories to my Wendy's entry. Okay, now I got the hang of this!
4:30 pm CST: I
t's time for me to get off of work and I have a hair appointment at 5:30 pm so I need to be able to TWYE on the run. I set up my cell phone to send Twitter updates through text messages. This way if I eat I can text message it, I can always look up my calories later and add them.
9:00 pm CST
: My mom, a biology teacher, is having problems setting up her Access database. I drive to her house and eat a salad their. Using a quick text message I twitter "d twye salad with ham and cheese, low fat bleu cheese dressing, sugar free Hawaiian punch".

After one day of TWYE I was hooked and impressed with the ease of the application. I decided the ask the creator of TWYE, Alex Weiss, a few questions about his inspiration and genius.

Was there an “aha” moment for you that gave you the idea for TWYE?
It was mid-summer and my wedding was fast approaching. I wanted to loose 5 pounds for the big day. I was already exercising and figured if I just tuned my eating habits a little, I could achieve my goal. I wanted a tool that would simply allow me to keep an online food diary so that I see what I was eating every day and make small changes to my eating habits. I didn't need anything fancy, just a simple way to log what I was eating.

I had played around with Twitter with a close group of friends who like me are on the fringe of generation X/Y and like many, we just didn't "get it." I knew there was something to the Twitter platform though, so I decided to build the food diary using Twitter primarily because I knew you could send messages easily through Twitter using your Phone, IM or the web. That accessibility meant no excuses on skipping a day in the diary.

TWYE seems like a web app that would appeal to women more than men, was that your main audience during your brainstorming stage?
I built the tool first for my needs, though I had hoped it would also have broad appeal. I didn't think too much about the intended demographic. My concern was more whether the tool would be easy enough, and useful enough for a non-Twitter user to use. I suspected that my audience might be more female than male but if you go and look through the recently posted food items on the homepage you'll see it appears to break close to 50/50 female to male.

I love being able to track my calories as I eat throughout the day. However, right now I am on a low carb diet. In future developments do you plan on adding a column for fat or carbs to focus on different eating plans?
I haven't decided on that yet. There are a host of other improvements that I want to launch first. In creating TWYE I made a deliberate effort not to look at any existing food diary or diet websites, which is why I think TWYE turned out to be unique. I started from scratch, building something that I would use. Perhaps that's why so many guys use it? It's built on the natural language that you or I would describe what we eat. Now that the site is gaining in popularity, I want to take into account user needs and stack on neat new functionality allowing the tool to evolve. It's going to grow organically though as I don't want to compromise its simplicity.

The only difficult moment for me using TWYE was tracking down how many calories are in what. Are there any plans on adding a look up feature that helps you find how many calories are in basic items, or list of resources that can help you find your calories faster?
Yes! I'm looking forward to launching this feature. It's been in the works for a while. I know what I want to do and it's going to be unique. Without giving too much away, TWYE users will have the ability to look-up calorie amounts for food items that they don't know.

I can see this concept catching on at a colossal rate, for young and old. My mom is always on a diet and when I taught her how to use it, she’s been text messaging TWYE every since. What are your future plans for TWYE and how do you plan on reaching an even larger audience?
I am very impressed (and happy to hear) that your mom can use it! The plan is to build up TWYE with more features before working on efforts to build on the audience. So far TWYE has a pretty strong and loyal following. Some simple things that are missing include a print view for your diary, the ability to export to .csv, and a calorie look-up. Once those enhancements are done, I plan to get the word out in a bigger way.

If you could tell future developers and/or designers any encouraging words, what would you tell them and why.
I'd tell them to go with their gut, stick with it and see it through. You never know. I was struggling to complete the last 5% of the project and fighting myself to contain feature creep as I headed into launch. I was close to scrapping the project but instead I pushed through and launched the site. The day after launch and one email later TWYE was featured and at the end of the day there were 500 new food diaries. That far exceeded my expectations and that feeling and accomplishment made it all worthwhile.

Like This? Love This? Let me know!