Tuesday, 13 December 2011

fitocracy vs sparkpeople

Update: Here's a fitocracy invite (if you want one)

I've been using sparkpeople for several years now, to track my workouts and weight progress. I heard about fitocracy a while back. It's gotten a fair bit of buzz in the geek crowd, and I've been hoping to play with that to see how they compare - but they never did get back to me with an invite... so I googled and grabbed one from a random fitness website :)

So now I can finally have a look at it and see what all the fuss it about, and find out which of the two I prefer. I've only been using fitocracy for a month, but here's my pros/cons so far.

Fitocracy

pros

  • Founded by fitness enthusiasts
  • Better centred around actual fitness scores (eg you can graph your reps or dumbell-weight, not just "number of times logged")
  • Better-designed interface (cleaner, better inter-page linkage, less cruft etc)
  • Can enter individual sets (rep/weight) all at once - which makes drop-sets and ladders much easier
  • Can save a "routine" full of sets (even from different exercise types) and copy it to a new day
  • Can actually can deal with the metric system! In every place where units are used (both entry and display and on graphs)
  • More motivating scoring system (at least I think), including fun quests etc
  • It tracks and notifies you if you've reached a new personal best (eg more reps, more weight, faster time etc)
  • Scoring system seem better weighted towards actually improving a person's exercise/fitness, rather than creating the user-generated content (or reading/viewing the sponsored content)
  • The developers are active in the forums, and actively work to change the system to meet the community's goals.
  • freemium - I like that they make a premium service available. That means they may not end up as advertising-supported site (which skews feature-design through the who is the real user here problem)

cons

  • *still* in beta, and you need an invite (you can get one yourself from my fitocracy invite code - I got mine from spartanwarrior's blogpost )
  • Some "growing pains" style bugs now and then (though I notice they disappear very quickly)
  • No run-distance tracker (you have to use another tool)
  • Smaller community (so far)
  • Still putting together a full set of data (eg exercises and advice), though it's sufficient for general use, and they take suggestions.
  • Can't go back and add your past workouts if you're, say, halfway through a multi-week challenge and just arrived on the site (4 days back only, even if you've *just arrived*)
  • Can't track goals you're working towards (eg goal weight/reps/distance ?) - though you can graph your current "personal best"
  • Not really set up at all for weight-loss tracking (you can enter your weight, but can't track it, and there are no quests or points for weight loss goals)

Sparkpeople

pros

  • Founded by weight loss enthusiasts
  • Has extensive food/calorie/nutrition-tracking
  • Larger range of options - eg tracking custom measurements/goals/activities etc
  • A huge library of fitness and health information already
  • Regular health-based news, recipe books and personal webpage (including blogging)
  • Can go back and add past workouts at any time in the past (good for migrating to a new site and not losing your past)
  • Nice widgets eg the "starting/current/goal weight" tracker.
  • Integrated distance-tracking tool (uses google, but then you can add your time and click "add to today's workout")
  • Can set/track long-term and per-week goals (eg long term goal of 60kg or "do 650 calories of cardio each week")

cons

  • It's actually very difficult to put in strength-training. They assume you do same-rep/weight sets so drop-sets or ladders have to be entered over and over again one at a time.
  • I think the points-system rewards strange things eg you get much more points for watching their advertising or for blogging, making recipes and taking polls/quizzes than actually doing exercise - this makes me feel that they are rewarding user-generated-content creation (which makes their site look better) rather than actual exercise/weight/loss (which rewards the actual person and is the stated purpose of the site)
  • Strength-training has bad graphing - you can't graph individual exercises whether by rep/weight or even number of times done (even though you can enter the info)... only by "number of training sets in total" (with all exercises mashed into one blob)
  • Excessive flashy/movey ads everywhere - which slow the site-load down and are also annoying. They are also prone to z-index problems (ie the menus sometimes appear *under* the ads)
  • They have some weird attempt to try to force you to only ever have the site open in one tab at a time. They do this through excessive use of javascript "load into this window" rather than normal links.It's quite likely an attempt to stop people from browsing elsewhere while the ads are showing, but really annoying if you're a multi-tab geek like me. To me this is one more piece of evidence that the "real users" of the site are the sponsors, not the people coming to lose weight.
  • Years later and they still don't have metric graphs. It seems like they've only made lip-service towards the metric system. I can enter my weight in kilos, but all distances are entered/tracked in miles.
  • General US-centric approach: I've noticed many, many polls/quizzes and articles that refer to US-only brands/traditions and culture.
  • No Premium Service option. The site is clearly suffering the problems of a free service: heavy ads, frakking around with links etc - I would have paid for it to actually work the way I want to (and get rid of those ads) but there's no option for that. Unfortunately, this is because the CEO/founder had publicly stated that SP will always be free. I'm sure that seemed a good idea to start with... but as their userbase rose dramatically, they've clearly had to fill the gap with advertising - thus leading to the change of "real users"

My personal conclusions

Sparkpeople has done me great service, and I can't really complain too much about a free service. Still, it's been around for a long time now - and they seem to have stopped improving the actual exercise/weight features and moved to mainly improving the information and social aspects. These aren't the bits that brought me to sparkpeople in the first place. I want a great tool for measuring my progress - not just another "generic health information" website (plus recipes!). sparkpeople is centred around building the sparkpeople community. That's fine... but I'm increasingly feeling that it's just not for me.

So - is fitocracy a good replacement? So far I think the answer is yes. It provides a better tool for the kinds of things that I want from an exercise logger. It also has added community features which, in this case, don't seem to be getting in the way. It's still unfinished, and yet it has a more professional "finish" to it than sparkpeople has ever managed. From what I can tell - the only advantages that sparkpeople has over fitocracy are the recipe/food-logging tools (which I never use anyway) and the vast back-catalogue of information provided by the sparkpeople community (both paid-for and free), which is something that will come to fitocracy with time.

For a little while longer I'm going to maintain both - mainly because I have three years' worth of past-data in sparkpeople (which is motivating for me). But if fitocracy ever gave me a way of importing that, I don't think I have any hesitation in switching permanently.


What do you think? have you used them both? Have I missed something important?

2 comments:

Akosua Rose said...

I was motivated to try Sparkpeople after trying Fitocracy because SP is more weight-loss centered. Also you can track food and get meal plans on SP unlike fitocracy. However I love the community at Fitocracy, and their points system is a lot of fun. It also has a cleaner interface like you mentioned. I might try maintaining both, although I will have to enter my exercises twice.

Taryn said...

Yes agreed about the weight-loss focus. Fitocracy is more focussed around strength training and exercise, rather than specifically weight-loss.

The community kind of has the attitude that weight-loss is a short-term goal where the long-term goal should actually be overall fitness - which if you follow that then weight-loss will Just Happen.

It's more of a holistic approach towards overall health by changing your general habits, rather than dropping X kilos.

So yes - it doesn't have any tools to help you with that - which sparkpeople does.