NEW YORK If there’s something the ad industry can agree on, it’s this: Nike Plus is a terrific initiative. The running system, which lets users track workouts and connect with others online, was released three years ago to success in the market and rapture in the marketing world, becoming the blueprint for how marketing and product development can combine in a system that extends value to consumers and builds loyalty.
But for all its accomplishments, Nike Plus has had its share of problems. The site was slow to adopt to emerging Internet trends around social networking. At a time when sharing became a Web phenomenon, Nike Plus had few options. The user experience also drew complaints because of its heavy use of Flash when many sites were shifting to lighter touches that sacrifice pizzazz for speed. What’s more, Nike suffered the embarrassment of its SportBand product – which let runners use the system without an iPod-malfunctioning when it got wet.
Nike aims to change that with its most sweeping changes yet to the online experience and moves to embed Nike Plus squarely with the Web’s emerging trends around sharing and openness. (It’s also rolling out a new SportBand it claims is waterproof.) While keeping Flash around, Nike has adopted HTML as the site’s basis, part of a broader move to using a “Nike OS” for all its sites. This allows the site to integrate social services and load faster.
“Inspiration in the early days was [beautiful] Flash experiences,” said Stefan Olander, global director of digital media at Nike. “As you mature, you focus on a tool that’s useful.”
Nike Plus is credited with powering Nike’s gains in the running shoe category, where its share in the U.S. has spiked from 48 percent in 2006 to 61 percent in 2008, according to SportScanInfo. NikePlus.com now has 2 million members, according to the company, who have tallied over 100 million miles.
Nike hopes to build on that. The new site has a simpler interface, sharing options galore and beefed-up community content. It’s also slowly opening up to existing Web services and laying the groundwork to open its system to competing tracking technologies and allow non-Nike developers to build apps using the data.
The site, designed by Nike digital shop R/GA, emphasizes personalization by giving the “goals” feature more prominence and ranking runners on levels based on how much they run. The site relates more closely with commerce by offering shoe suggestions based on an online questionnaire. And Nike has moved its NikeRunning.com community site into NikePlus.com.
The overhaul is intended to make Nike Plus a part of the Web’s larger social infrastructure, with users now able to share running info on their existing social networks, Facebook and Twitter. Like those services, Nike has a “friend” system for adding connections and will suggest potential runner friends.
Since its release, Nike has faced new competition. Garmin, a rival tracking system, has its own Web hub for compiling data. Startups have also entered the field. DailyMile.com offers a slick Web 2.0 interface not tied to any particular system. Runners can import Nike or Garmin data to a Facebook-like experience that ties into existing social networks including video-posting service Seesmic. The site, which launched last December, currently has just 20,000 members.
Adrian Ho, founding partner at Zeus Jones, said Nike Plus was a trailblazer, but added the site “still feels pretty closed and lonely, and about you and your performance.”
Nike plans to open up the system to allow people who track their runs using systems like Garmin to join the community. It’s also considering a way to allow outside developers access to a Nike Plus feed to allow them to create their own applications with the data, an approach that’s led to thousands of Twitter applications.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity to tap into the collective brainpower of the developer community,” Olander said. “[But] it requires solid documentation. We’re working towards that.”