The Unbearable Pinkness of Bleeding
May 4, 2017 12:35 PM   Subscribe

“I actually half-jokingly bet Daniel that nobody had done research on the topic, because I’m just so used to women’s-health issues and such not being covered,” said Lee, who works in the tech industry. Epstein, a graduate student studying self-tracking tools at the University of Washington, didn’t believe it. “He was like, ‘No it’s such an obvious research topic… surely lots of people must have studied it.’” Of course, she was right.

Nikki Lee and Daniel Epstein recently completed a study - the first in the field of human-computer interaction - about menstrual tracking apps. They asked people how and why they tracked their periods and what they want from their apps. Unsurprisingly, users clamored for less pink, fewer flowers, greater accuracy, discretion, inclusivity, flexibility, and easy ways to analyze and summarize data.

Lee and Epstein will present their findings at this year's CHI (Human Factors in Computing Systems) conference. The full paper is available online (PDF). Lee summarized their methodology and findings in the first two posts of a three-part series; part three, in which Epstein reflects on being a male researcher studying a women's health* topic, remains forthcoming.

*From the paper: We use the gendered term “women” in this paper to refer to anyone who has, or has previously had, a menstrual cycle. This follows the general use of the term “women’s health” in the HCI community to discuss health issues around pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, and breast cancer. We acknowledge not all people who have a menstrual cycle identify as women, and not all people who identify as women have a menstrual cycle.

Period trackers, previously:
How period trackers presume/impose heterosexuality, fertility, feminity
"Fitbit for your period": the rise of fertility tracking
The connected vagina
“We want you to find yourself on that form.”
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? (31 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This is where I plug Clue, right? Clue is awesome and wonderfully non-pink and nongendered.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2017 [25 favorites]

I have one of the ones they call out for being pink, but they fortunately had the option to change the color scheme to something non-pink.

I honestly could give a toss what color it is so long as the data is intact. And for someone who has entered Wacky Menopause Hijinks land, intact data is crucial (it is no longer easy for me to be able to tell my doctor "when was your last period?" "Uh....wait, was this the month when it was only three weeks after the last one, or three months?....")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

Eh, I tried Clue on Metafilter advice, and I actually didn't like it. I can't put my finger exactly on why, but having used other apps before (mostly the Ovia/Ovuline ones for tracking and then pregnancy) I found the data input more difficult and harder to look back on. Also, I never did quite figure out how to change the timing of notifications, as much fun as it was having my phone on a conference table during a meeting and having it suddenly light up to inform me I'd be ovulating soon. (tbc, I didn't want to turn notifications *off*, just change what time of day they'd show up)

I participated in this survey (Nikki is a friend of mine) and ranted accordingly about my experiences with Ovia/Ovuline, similar to feedback I'd sent directly to the company after using them for my last pregnancy a few years ago, but reusing them recently for conception and now pregnancy tracking again I see they've already taken a lot of it into account and the things that annoyed me last time are less prevalent this time around. It's great to see these companies taking some of this to heart - the changes aren't difficult to make, and it really does make life that much better.
posted by olinerd at 1:06 PM on May 4, 2017

As for olinerd, my biggest surprise came during a strategy meeting the day after I'd installed a popular app. I had carefully – or so I thought – turned off notifications.

Cue my iPhone lighting up in the meeting with a notification: "Remember to track your period!" in pink. With a cutesy blood drop. Sigh.
posted by fraula at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

As a continuous oral birth control user, is there any reason I'd want to use such an app? Help me, hive mind.
posted by sazerac at 1:17 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think some of the recent changes to Clue have made it less useful. The 'analysis' view used to be the default and now you have to take several unintuitive steps to find it. You can't reorder the data entry form to make it more useful when tracking non-menstruating parts. They did add sharing which why?! (N.B. I know why I just am annoyed they added that an removed bits I liked).
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:18 PM on May 4, 2017

This is where I plug Clue, right? Clue is awesome and wonderfully non-pink and nongendered.

Same with PP's app, Spot On! It also reminds me of my anniversary with my IUD.
posted by amarynth at 1:25 PM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Clue has been a godsend for those of us with insanely erratic periods. It's not perfect, but it helps me, for sure.
posted by Kitteh at 1:47 PM on May 4, 2017

Kitteh, Clue has worked well for you for that? I got horrifically frustrated and deleted Clue because it kept trying to truncate my crazylong periods and then tell me I was having a period when I was not. Did I choose the wrong function somehow?
posted by epj at 3:21 PM on May 4, 2017

The Internet of Parts.

"Are your Parts networked? Why not?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:32 PM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

In here to plug OvuView, which is as pink or not-pink as you'd like, and has great graphs and statistics. Then I'll go RTFA.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:00 PM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

found a paper on this from gynecology journal, looking at it, pretty stupid methodology for CHI, wouldn't get published there

Evaluation of Smartphone Menstrual Cycle Tracking Applications Using an Adapted APPLICATIONS Scoring System, Moglia et al, ISSN: 0029-7844/16

That one has some citations for other stuff, Lupton "Quantified sex: a critical analysis of sexual and reproductive self-tracking using apps" looks p. promising, can't get ahold of a copy

So it's not the first analysis of menstrual apps but it's the first analysis of menstrual apps in CHI

God, that methodology is stupid
posted by hleehowon at 6:24 PM on May 4, 2017

I liked the idea of Clue (actually for tracking whether my migraines and periods were related), but after using it for four months and getting tantalisingly close to having enough data to be useful, it crashed, lost all my data, and now I can't reinstall it on my phone at all. (Not that I'd trust it now anyway). I'm using Glow instead, which I don't love, but it seems to be working so far. And it's not pink, and seemed to learn after a week or two not to bother me with notifications or reminders.
posted by lollusc at 6:34 PM on May 4, 2017

Really just spitballing here, but with regards to color, could it be the developers really only have in mind what cismen are thinking? "Oh, there's a pink flower logo, I can just skip that..."
posted by shalom at 8:59 PM on May 4, 2017

God, you would think I would know by now not to read the comments. (On TFA, not here.)
posted by KathrynT at 10:34 PM on May 4, 2017

I've been on since 2002. No pink, just an old school bar graph. Also, not an app.
posted by pernoctalian at 12:00 AM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't track my periods at all and I don't floss either.
I'm such a rebel / I'm such a failure. (Can't decide which it is.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:32 AM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I hate all period tracking apps. They are so fiddly to use. I am someone who spends a lot of time thinking and reading and watching important videos online, like "Elders React to Coachella 2017." I don't have time or the patience to track my period. I think I may as well design my own app.

How I would design it?

I would open it up on the first day. I would press a button going, "YES I HAVE MY PERIOD TODAY I AM BLEEDING" and it would automatically mark the day that it is for me, or give me the option to set it. It would then have a notification to check when my period ends, usually around 5-7 days. And then it'd go, "OMFG IT IS OVER YES YES YES." Then it won't bother me again until it goes in all CAPS "ARE YOU BLEEDING" on my notification screen. Because I have no idea how else to get myself to track this.

*note I am actually up at 3:28 am when I need to be in bed so I can get ready for my 24-hour hackathon. uuuugh app ideas galore
posted by yueliang at 3:27 AM on May 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

The only thing Clue has going for it is that it isn't pink or flowery. The UX is a mess; the UI is way too multicoloured & cluttered, with too many typefaces; and it isn't nearly customizable enough to be useful.
posted by sea change at 3:39 AM on May 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I never tracked my period either, but with BC it stayed pretty consistent.

Now that I'm trying to get pregnant I use one called Period Tracker. it's been really helpful in keeping all the information together in one place. It is covered in flowers and pink and butterflies, etc. so that's annoying. I'd have to buy the app instead of the free version to get other options.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:44 AM on May 5, 2017

Cluttered? I think people are talking about an older version of Clue. It's much better than when it first debuted.
posted by agregoli at 7:17 AM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the one thing I wish Clue would do is sync up with a fitness tracker, considering how much my period affects my sleep habits, food intake, moods and exercise. But that's more of an issue with fitness trackers than period trackers.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:35 AM on May 5, 2017

PTracker is super pink and flowery, but it also has a super convenient button that just says "START PERIOD" or something along those lines.
posted by delight at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

dinty_moore, Clue does take my fitbit heart rate data as an input. Not that that captures all of it, but I suppose it could help a little?

Alternatively, a lot of fitness tracker stuff (and period tracking, including Clue) can be integrated with Apple health if you're using an iPhone so you have it all in the same place.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:26 AM on May 5, 2017

As a continuous oral birth control user, is there any reason I'd want to use such an app? Help me, hive mind.

Well, I've been in the same boat for 10 years now, but my period never, ever syncs up with the inactive pills. I've never had a real pregnancy scare, and it always shows up somewhere around the 3rd or 4th day of sugar pills, but I still use apps to track my cycle.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:41 AM on May 5, 2017

I have stupidly erratic periods, so tracking is important to me. I use the Life period tracker and I loooove it. The free version is fine and ad free, but the paid version (one time fee, very inexpensive) gives more bells and whistles than you'd ever need. It's very thoughtfully designed, NOT PINK, and can track (or not track, if you're someone who has uncomfortable feelings around, for example, fertility) various things along a tremendous variety of axes, all of which have customization options, including mood, symptoms, sexual activity, fertility, weight, medication, health, etc. Has charts and graphs galore for the data wonks, but is also as simple as you want it to be, if that's more your thing. Can't recommend it enough.
posted by merriment at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2017

I've been using for about a million years (it'll be a decade this year!). I added Clue to get a few extra bits of detail, although, eh, MonthlyInfo is probably good enough by itself. Altho jeez so much pink.

What I appreciate most, as someone who has always had a pretty erratic cycle, is that it gives me a standard deviation and a cool graph of lengths over time.

I can set it to send me (and whoevs) an email some number of days in advance, altho it doesn't always seem to go through?

yueliang, its interface is pretty much pick a date "I STARTED TODAY" and that's it. (Now that I look again, you can set other stuff on those days, but I never ever have.)
posted by epersonae at 4:06 PM on May 5, 2017

R a c h e l, I want it the other way around - I want my fitness tracker to be like PS - the reason why you needed to sleep ten hours and were stressed out and had a shitty workout was because you had your period that day, not because of anything that you could feasibly control.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:35 PM on May 5, 2017

I am surprised this is not collected data for the Fitbit. I am with Dinty Moore on that one, for sure.
posted by jadepearl at 7:56 PM on May 6, 2017

I wrote a thing about life-tracking apps and came to the conclusion that I want a standard data format so that my mood tracker, headache tracker, and menstruation tracker (etc etc) can all talk to each other.
posted by epersonae at 12:54 PM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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