Aiding and Abetting
[UPDATE for New Years 2013: We’re continuing to keep this list up to date. Let us know in the comments if there are any competitors we’ve missed!]
I just blackmailed myself  with a silly photo  thanks to our competitor Aherk.com, who publishes “compromising” photos of you to Facebook if you don’t pony up (i.e., get shit done). I guess it will show up on my facebook page. (This photo is not actually compromising; I just want to get the full Aherk experience, minus the mortification. I’m not actually too keen on Aherk’s angle.)
Aherk is one of several Beeminder competitors getting a lot of press lately. Since our last post was singing praises of other trackers, we thought we’d follow that line to its logical conclusion and catalog other anti-akrasia tools as well. Here are the others we know of:
- StickK (“put a contract out on yourself”) is the most well-known of the bunch. We’ve blogged about StickK before and we’ll do so again soon, because we think Beeminder is now a drastic improvement over StickK for data-oriented goals, such as weight loss.
- Fatbet facilitates weight-loss wagers among friends, i.e., you use it to set up a group weight loss competition. UPDATE: The similar DietBet looks farther along now.
- GymPact has the perhaps dangerous idea to widen Fatbet’s friendly circle. It’s an iPhone app that automatically tracks when you go to the gym, but the commitment device angle is that you win money for going to the gym, paid by other GymPact members who couldn’t get themselves off the couch. (We hope they’re doing their homework on moral hazard and adverse selection! Not that that needs to be a dealbreaker.)
- HealthRally we think of as almost the opposite of Beeminder, rewarding people for reaching goals instead of punishing them for failing to. You collect pledges from friends and family who chip in for some coveted prize if you reach your health-related goal. We suspect that the typical Beeminder user would balk at the idea of taking up a collection, whereas the typical HealthRally user would just laugh at the idea of paying Beeminder money when they fail.
- Succeed Or Else is seemingly a StickK Lite. They keep your money if you fail, which in our opinion, only works if you’re providing a lot of additional value (like, say, by being a great data tracking tool as well as a commitment device!). UPDATE: Though they still have a web page, it looks like it’s been abandoned, or never got past the placeholder stage.
- Lose It Or Lose It is much more nicely done than Succeed Or Else, and, obviously, focuses on weight loss. It has some cool social features so is less susceptible to our criticism of Succeed Or Else.
- 21habit is elegant and simple. You pledge $21 to maintain some desired action for 21 days, hopefully ingraining it as a habit.
- TimeCarrot combined the ideas of StickK and RescueTime, but seems to have fallen to an early demise. They should’ve beeminded their progress!
- Run Or Else launched 2012 Jan 16 and the name says it all. You use the RunKeeper app to track your runs and risk money via PayPal.
- UPDATE: Nearing the end of 2012 and still no new companies providing true commitment devices that we’re aware of. But to keep this list self-contained we’ll add ourselves and Aherk, described in the intro above…
- Beeminder = commitment contracts + Quantified Self. (For the latter without the former, see our previous post.)
- Aherk! provides commitment contracts where the penalty is embarrassment.
- Fitsby is a GymPact competitor for Android that’s focused on bets among friends.
- We’re not sure this counts as true commitment device apps but there are some new alarm clock apps that force you to jump through various kinds of hoops to turn them off or shame you in various ways if you don’t: BetterMe, Wake N Shake, Morning Routine.
- Another one that barely counts (the penalty is just broadcasting your failure) but looks nicely done is Getupp which lets you commit to being at a given place at a given time.
It’s funny how we once thought of it as worrisome to see other startups pursuing our idea. It’s so clearly the opposite of worrisome! The more the merrier! All these startups are helping each other get the public exposed to commitment devices.
It’s like my brother who has a sushi restaurant in Peoria, IL with one primary competitor in town. Since most people in town haven’t even tried sushi, most of the marketing that my brother’s competitor does is just creating new sushi eaters, some of whom will then presumably eat at my brother’s restaurant. Anecdotally, that effect dwarfs any actual customer stealing that the competitor may do.
With Beeminder and StickK and now Aherk and others, it’s like that but even more so: 99% of the population hasn’t heard of a single one of us!
PS: We’ve learned of a newcomer about to launch on Monday, by the founder of the Programmable Self movement. We’ll add them to this list then! [And done. It’s Run Or Else and their logo can be seen sprinting in from the upper left corner of our logo collage.]
 UPDATE: I originally referred to it as a “gay photo” which I thought was kosher since I clarified that I was not using “gay” pejoratively nor do I equate “gay” with “compromising”. Sense was quickly knocked into me (thanks everyone!): steer a wide berth around the kinds of things bigots say and don’t rely on wordy explanations to counter a first impression!
Here’s the original version of the first paragraph, if you’re curious:
I just blackmailed myself  with a gay photo thanks to our competitor Aherk.com, who publishes “compromising” photos of you to Facebook if you don’t pony up (i.e., get shit done). My photo isn’t NSFW or anything. It’s not even embarrassing. Ok, fine, it’s actually entirely innocuous and I’m intending to cause it to get released, just to see how that part works. I guess it will show up on my facebook page. (As you’ll see, you might call it gay, sort of, but obviously I see nothing compromising about that. I’m not actually too keen on Aherk’s angle.)