Massive Health launches its first app

Much talked about San Francisco-based startup Massive Health launched its first application today, an iPhone app called The Eatery that has users take pictures of their food to track their eating habits. The app relies on recording pictures rather than numbers to give users an overview of their diet.

Here’s how it works: First, take a picture of each thing you eat before you eat it, and indicate the portion size. Next, rate your meal as Fit or Fat. Your Facebook friends and other Eatery app users can weigh in by giving you a thumbs up or thumbs down on your food choices. When the app is used consistently over time, it can present visual feedback including what time of day you eat the healthiest, what restaurants lead you to eat healthy or unhealthy meals and more.

Massive Health co-founders Sutha Kamal and Aza Raskin — a founding member of Mozilla Labs — aim to take the self-tracking approach to health. They call this first app a Massive Health experiment. “Whatever we’re doing now, isn’t working,” Raskin said. “So bringing beautiful design, bringing beautiful experience, making products that work the way people do I think is the only way to get people in the U.S. to be healthier.”

The tool uses tactics that have already been seen in other Health 2.0 technologies. Meal Snap is an iPhone app from Daily Burn that uses pictures to tell users what food makes up a meal. It then provides a rough estimate of the calories it contains. Foo.log, only available now in Japanese, is an app for both iPhone and Android devices that allows users to snap food images, which are processed for nutritional composition and stored in a log. (See below for a Foo.log demo from September’s Health 2.0 conference). Tweetwhatyoueat is a social food diary that works the way it sounds and employs crowdsourcing to help users track calories. It’s been around since 2007.

Massive Health is a closely followed health startup. The company has raised a $2.5 million seed round from Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, Greylock Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Felicis Ventures, and others. One reason why it’s generated interest is that Sutha and Raskin have been very outspoken in saying that they’re going to use wholly new approaches to tackle health issues for those with chronic diseases.

But The Eatery is at best an indirect attempt to address this goal, as it looks like a diet application — albeit one that has a different approach than a calorie counter. The company is also excluding a lot of users by not offering an Android version of the app. Raskin’s tweet saying, “We’ll see how the iOS version goes first,” suggests that this is more or less a test. Massive Health is just getting started, so it remains to be seen how it will attempt to more directly and more inclusively tackle the mission of improving life for those with chronic diseases.

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