I have been refraining from writing my own training log website because there are so many in existance. I have not found one that is 100% what I want in a training log tool. I have used several desktop applications and have not been bowled over by them. However, I have been using web-based apps with some success. One in particular, RunSaturday, with much enthusiasm, and another (by request of my training group leader), BeginnerTriathlete, with much chagrin. As such, I shall compare them on the things I deem important as a (newbie) triathlete, software designer, gadget enthusiast, and super-user of the internet.**
1. Usability & Navigation
Perhaps the most obvious question when I try to learn a new tool is “Can I figure out how to do what I need to do without consulting the directions?”. I consider myself an above-average technology-proficient person, and as such, since most sites are built for the average user, I should generally be able to get around without much trouble and figure out how to use the site’s basic functionality without much help. The basic functionality of these sites is to be able to load up all my training data into one place and to then be able to analyze it, look at it, and feel like I am one heck of an amazing human being for all that I do. 🙂 After that, it is good to connect with friends and be able to share workout info with others.
Run Saturday, I give props to on this. I was able to register, login, and upload my data from both my old nike+ account and my garmin 305 without much hassle or configuration. I did run into problems with the garmin plugin using Safari 4, but I think it is a Garmin issue, and not a RunSaturday issue. I fixed it by using a different browser (Firefox), and all is well with the world. I found the friend page, and saw that I had a wall (similar to facebook), to which the creator of the site posted a personal welcome message to me within a few hours of me joining. Adding a friend is no big deal, just clicking a link and that’s it.
Beginner Triathlete, I had no problem registering, but past that, it was very hard to figure out where to add things and what I needed to do. It’s layout is busy busy busy and the ads steal your attention away from what is actually important. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to add info to my training log from my garmin, and turns out you have to PAY for it to do it directly, so I must enter all the numbers manually (and there are a lot of numbers). I don’t have the time or money for that mess, so I will likely use this site for the 12 weeks I’m training with the group and then get the heck out because it’s clunky and takes more effort to enter info than the benefit. You don’t get graphs for free, either.
The other part of usability is Navigation. Both sites are a bit clunky, but RunSaturday is the clear winner because once you’ve found what you need, it is not listed in different places that aren’t consistent in the destination. For example, BT has two links called “Training Log”, one graphical and one textual. Well, the graphical version takes you to your expected destination of your training log, but the textual one takes you to articles discussing the log (or something). Misleading and confusing, both. My thoughts with RS is that I probably would have put links in different places, but that’s a difference in how people think as opposed to being confusing and overwhelming.
RunSaturday is completely free. Beginner Triathlete is partially free, but if you want anything more than a spot in the database table, such as graphs and garmin uploads, it will cost you at least $50 a year, up to $170/year for the most all-inclusive package.
I guess for me to pay for something, especially a subscription based something, I need to like it very very much and plan on using it for the duration of the subscription. And, there needs to not be an equivalent (or better) option that is cheaper (or free).
Compatibility with training gadgets is important to me. I’ve used Nike+, Polar, and now Garmin for tracking my runs/bikes/swims, and I like to be able to see all my stuff in the same place.
RS: I can upload from SportTracks, Garmin, Polar, Nike+, Nokia, or I can upload by directly entering information.
BT: The free version only allows directly entering information, but I *could* pay for the ability to suck it off my Garmin automagically.
Being able to show off my progress, brag about the miles I’ve covered, encourage non-triathletes to get off the couch and start moving, or compare stats among my friends requires that I be able to share my data.
BT allows friends to see your “training blog” if they are part of the BT userbase and identified as your friend.
RS allows friends to see your training data, but it also allows you to share via Twitter, facebook, or a number of other social networking outlets. For example, I upload to RS and tell it to tweet my workouts, and it adds the info to my twitter feed that then displays on this here blog.
When thinking of a training log, I want to be able to use it for a good long while, somewhat like a Maytag Washer and Dryer…you expect it to work for years to come. As such, I believe software much be developed in such a way to provide a sustainable product even though gadgets, internet browsers, operating systems, etc, may change.
I cannot say where the future of sites like these are, but I can say that BT seems to be focused on making money off of you and RS seems to be focused on providing a helpful service to fellow athletes. However, I do know that RS has provided a data access api where I could go and create my own applications and suck in data from my account in RS’s database. (At least that’s what the developer made it sound like.) If I absolutely cannot live without some analysis feature, I could write it myself and plug-in to the website. I like that open mindset among developers, and I think that will payoff in RS’s future. I have no idea how BT works on the inside of it’s system, but if they aren’t willing to suck data in from my garmin for free, odds are there is no way to freely access my own data off their system.
**In all fairness, I should probably note that I have only been using BT for less than a week and my frustration level with it is what is motivating me to write this entry. As such, my review, although I tried to base it in objective fact, could be skewed by my subjective opinion that RS is by far superior to BT.
***I am also aware that some may disagree with me or value other aspects in their training log software tools or find my analysis unscientific and statistically insignificant. As long as you find what works for you, I don’t care if you agree with me.
****Lastly, I do realize there are a lot of tools out there that I do not use or know about. There could be something better than what I have found, and if you have found it, I would be glad to hear about it. One of my friends uses The Daily Mile and likes it pretty well. I haven’t had a chance to use that one, but perhaps in the future I will review it as well.