Barfing Cats and Other Stories from Talking to Weasels in Support

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
By dreeves

A barfing cat

We’ve written a lot about weaseling and cheating (combatting it, recovering from it) in Beeminderland, and about how we approach customer support. Today we thought we’d share some of our standard responses to weaselly things we hear occasionally when people go off track on their goals.

“Not legit!”

Oh no, what happened?

Calling not-legit should be super painless but we’re going to at least have an unautomatable interaction with you about it.

“Not legit! My cat got sick and barfed on everything in my house and I totally ran out of time to hit my do-less goal for junk food!”

Hey _____, we’re always super worried about breaking Beeminder’s incentives in cases like this! Any kind of “just this once” exception is a perilously slippery slope, as you can imagine. Arguably the point of Beeminder is to make sure important goals don’t get crowded out when things get busy. (We’d love to nerd out about the philosophy and behavioral economics of this kind of thing if you have more thoughts!) Can you formulate a general principle that would apply to this and all future similar cases where it would make sense to call such derailments not legit?

It’s common for people to actually decide to feel good about paying us after reading that, like they’re buying the continued credibility of Beeminder’s threat. Once in a while the person will formulate a totally sensible general principle. (My favorite: “if something happens that involves me having to wear a suit, then the derailment isn’t legit”.) And sometimes the person will kind of persist in their weaseliness and if they didn’t weaselproof themselves then we go along with that, maybe guilting them into working off the debt instead by giving us $X worth of feedback about how Beeminder could’ve held their feet to the fire better.

Ever since this came up in the forum we’ve used the term “barfing cats excuse” for something that feels like a fair excuse but really the whole point of beeminding your goal was to make sure it got done despite such excuses.

“Within 0.001 is close enough, right?”

The short answer, which we probably wouldn’t lead with in a support email:

No.

The diplomatic answer is like so:

Oh my, you’ve opened up a philosophical can of worms here. We have so many opinions about the “close enough” question. Mostly they’re along the lines of “OMG no that’s a slippery slope that will eventually ruin Beeminder for you FOREVER!” :) More in this blog post. We consider it pretty fundamental to Beeminder that there’s a single unambiguous very bright line for what constitutes a derailment. Having said that, unless you weaselproof the goal, it’s ultimately up to you whether it’s legit. (Just make sure to reply to the legit check within 24 hours.)
 
More generally, our philosophy is to be as generous as we can possibly justify being but it should always be in terms of a universal policy that we’re happy to commit to following in all future similar situations. Like how any derailment that can at all be classified as a technicality is always grounds for stopping a charge. But if you try to commit to a “close enough” policy then you have to define what that means. Like “within 1% of the edge of the road”. But then either that’s merely a new bright line (one that’s harder to reason about by having been obscured) or the “close enough” policy applies recursively, which, again, slippery slope. A possible counterargument is that having a strict nominal limit and more lenient actual limit kind of tricks you into building more safety buffer. We’re very certain that backfires. Having the faintest inkling that there exists some leniency will immediately translate, psychologically, to correspondingly more reckless edge skating.
 
Ok, we’ve clearly thought about this stuff to a ridiculous extent but it also means we could really use feedback from new users. It doesn’t matter if we’re philosophically and behaviorally economically right if we come off as inflexible jerks! :) Also we love nerding out about the philosophy of this stuff if you have more thoughts!

“I just got really busy. Can I have my money back?”

Oh no! Let us argue a bit, not for the sake of the money but because Beeminder is arguably failing at upholding the primary thing it promises to do (enforce consequences on commitments) if we say yes to this. [Here we’d repeat the argument that the whole point of Beeminder is to commit to doing things despite getting busy and soliciting a general principle by which it could make sense to call this non-legit instead of a just-this-once thing.] And sometimes it’s about us having done a poor job of informing the user about the options, like “I didn’t realize I could change my rate for next week when I knew a big work project was due” for example.
 
What do you think?
 
As a final option, how do you feel about giving us $___ worth of feedback about Beeminder (good or bad — but especially bad so that we can improve!). You can choose how much feedback you think is worth the $___ refund!

“Oops, I forgot to enter my data!”

Actually we take this at face value and don’t assume any weaselliness is going on. It’s by far the most common thing we hear in support and is totally fine and we just happily fix things up for you when this happens.

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