JMIR Publications, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 12(22), p. e23369, 2020
BackgroundBehavior change apps can develop iteratively, where the app evolves into a complex, dynamic, or personalized intervention through cycles of research, development, and implementation. Understanding how existing users engage with an app (eg, frequency, amount, depth, and duration of use) can help guide further incremental improvements. We aim to explore how simple visualizations can provide a good understanding of temporal patterns of engagement, as usage data are often longitudinal and rich.ObjectiveThis study aims to visualize behavioral engagement with Drink Less, a behavior change app to help reduce hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption in the general adult population of the United Kingdom.MethodsWe explored behavioral engagement among 19,233 existing users of Drink Less. Users were included in the sample if they were from the United Kingdom; were 18 years or older; were interested in reducing their alcohol consumption; had a baseline Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test score of 8 or above, indicative of excessive drinking; and had downloaded the app between May 17, 2017, and January 22, 2019 (615 days). Measures of when sessions begin, length of sessions, time to disengagement, and patterns of use were visualized with heat maps, timeline plots, k-modes clustering analyses, and Kaplan-Meier plots.ResultsThe daily 11 AM notification is strongly associated with a change in engagement in the following hour; reduction in behavioral engagement over time, with 50.00% (9617/19,233) of users disengaging (defined as no use for 7 or more consecutive days) 22 days after download; identification of 3 distinct trajectories of use, namely engagers (4651/19,233, 24.18% of users), slow disengagers (3679/19,233, 19.13% of users), and fast disengagers (10,903/19,233, 56.68% of users); and limited depth of engagement with 85.076% (7,095,348/8,340,005) of screen views occurring within the Self-monitoring and Feedback module. In addition, a peak of both frequency and amount of time spent per session was observed in the evenings.ConclusionsVisualizations play an important role in understanding engagement with behavior change apps. Here, we discuss how simple visualizations helped identify important patterns of engagement with Drink Less. Our visualizations of behavioral engagement suggest that the daily notification substantially impacts engagement. Furthermore, the visualizations suggest that a fixed notification policy can be effective for maintaining engagement for some users but ineffective for others. We conclude that optimizing the notification policy to target both effectiveness and engagement is a worthwhile investment. Our future goal is to both understand the causal effect of the notification on engagement and further optimize the notification policy within Drink Less by tailoring to contextual circumstances of individuals over time. Such tailoring will be informed from the findings of our micro-randomized trial (MRT), and these visualizations were useful in both gaining a better understanding of engagement and designing the MRT.