Death To Freebees; Or, Freebees Für Alles

Saturday, April 2, 2016
By dreeves

Bee Free Infinity (with a picture of a bee)

News! We scrapped the overcomplicated concept of Freebees. But don’t panic! By scrapping it we mean that you don’t need to know the term “freebees” or worry about buying them: All goals can now be created with an initial pledge of $0. Can we get a hallelujah? (If you want to cap your pledge at $0, you still need a premium plan for that.)

A Convoluted History You Needn’t Read

This whole Freebees thing is a remarkable example of the phenomenon of painfully, circuitously getting to something that in hindsight is obvious and simple.

In the very beginning we implemented something ridiculous we called ephemeral goals where you chose up front to make a goal a temporary test goal meaning it would self-destruct and screw you, user, if you forgot you had said that. That was no good at all, even if we’d come up with a good enough way to warn and remind you about the imminent self-destruction. In any case we needed some way for you to try Beeminder before actually adding a credit card.

I dug up some ancient notes detailing endless agonizing over different schemes for accomplishing this. For posterity, the top contenders (yes, they all had adorable code names):

  1. Beeyonce (“if you like it then you better put a pledge on it”)
  2. Simply Seven (roughly what we ended up implementing, with a bunch of improvements later)
  3. Magnetic Fields (“don’t fall in love with me yet” — some variant of ephemeral goals)
  4. Simple as Hellyer (ironically too complicated to convey in a parenthetical)

I’m glad Andy and Philip were groping along the way with us, proving that the final epiphany was not in fact obvious back then. I.e., it wasn’t just an instance of Bee and me having our heads completely up our butts.

In short, we started with a stupid, almost user-hostile implementation, went through a ridiculous sequence of iterations involving whole new terminology and a blog post — Freebees: Not Actually Free — and ended up at a perfectly simple solution that makes all the right things almost always happen without any of the intermediate rube-goldbuggery.

(I feel like writing code works that way. You keep adding duct tape and chewing gum to satisfy the different requirements and bugs that come up and then you gradually whittle it back down and end up with a few simple lines and it’s bewildering how you were too dumb to have just written that from the start. [1])

The Catch: You Still Have To Add A Credit Card

If you skipped over the convoluted history then you don’t know the catch when we say you can now start all goals at $0 forever. Which you totally can. But the reason for all the historical convolutedness was that we needed some way to get you to actually put in a credit card at some point. Until you do that Beeminder is stingless and pointless and when you derail there’s nothing for us to do but freeze your goal and let you stick your head in the sand. It’s terrible.

Also we like money. But seriously, Beeminder needs to be a credible threat. [2] So the new solution is we just don’t let you create new goals at some point unless you add your payment info.

What does “at some point” mean? We’re finding that out, with Science. As of this writing we’re randomly partitioning people into two groups: those who can create exactly 1 goal before they have to add a credit card and those who can create 7.

(Aside: We don’t think of it as a paywall since you won’t be paying unless you go off track on a goal. We call it the commitwall.)

Reclaiming The Term “Freebee”

By the old definition of “freebee” — a goal with an initial pledge of $0 — freebees are now unlimited and free of charge for everyone. Which is to say there’s no need for a word for “a goal initially at $0” at all. That’s just a choice you make about any goal you create.

But that term is so adorable that we can’t bear to throw it away altogether. Beesides, it has a pretty natural new meaning in this new world order that’s almost the same as the old one:

A freebee is a goal you create before you’ve entered payment info: A goal with $0 pledged and that will just freeze if you derail.

We put a version of that in the glossary in case you forget.


PS: To be extra clear, freebees become forrealbees as soon as you enter your payment info. They still have $0 at risk but if you derail they automatically jump to the next pledge level ($5) and continue to increase each time you derail until you hit your pledge cap. (You choose the pledge cap when you create the goal now and hopefully it’s all nice and self-explanatory.)



[1] Obligatory platitude about perfection:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

[2] Being a credible threat is half the point of Beeminder (the other half is to be a Quantified Self tool) and collecting those pledges is also how we keep the lights on. Again, if you want to remove the commitment device aspect of a goal, we have a premium plan for that.


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  • Cynthia

    I have been using beeminder with the goal of not having to give my credit card information as motivation. I understand that you like money (quote “Also we like money. But seriously … “) but users like me would be affected by this change. Moreover, I usually have to create and delete goals a few times until I find the right metric, and there was no problem with the freebees since during the first days I could delete the trial and get to try again. I hope this change won’t be problematic.

  • Daniel Reeves

    I’ve long touted that as a powerful feature of Beeminder, that it can be highly effective for people who are motivated to stay on track from the get-go so they never have to even enter a credit card, let alone pay anything.

    But it’s slightly stronger than us liking money. Beeminder can’t exist without it. It’s possible that we’ll decide to sacrifice that feature. If we do we might decide to grandfather existing users. Eager to keep hearing feedback about this!

  • Habit ReCode

    If users do have an issue with supplying a credit card, might I suggest a little safety method that I like to have at hand. I purchased one of those preloaded visa cards from the post office or similar. I keep mine with a balance of about $20 and use it for those times that require linking a credit card with no ability so somehow overpay or similar.
    Just a thought for any loyal user who does not like the idea of linking their everyday credit card.

  • Daniel Reeves

    Oh, gosh, I had forgotten that was a thing people could do! Ironically I think that’s a super dangerous thing to do with Beeminder because it lets you stick your head in the sand when you derail. Beeminder used to be super safe like that where every time you went off track and got charged you’d have to explicitly opt in to being on the hook again. It was *terrible* for users, as we describe in a couple blog posts: &

    In short, it’s really important, psychologically / behavioral-economically, to make the commitment and then have it be on autopilot until you opt out. It does mean you have to trust Beeminder a lot when you put in your credit card. Here’s why we hope you’ll decide that that’s ok to do:

    1. We’ll never charge you if you keep all your datapoints on track
    2. We’ll email you before charging you in case anything went wrong (like any kind of technical problem or even just confusion about how things work)
    3. If you reply to that email we’ll always believe you and cancel the charge (unless you choose to weaselproof yourself)
    4. Deadman switch! If you stop using Beeminder altogether, we’ll (eventually) stop charging you

    PS: Hooray Habit reCode! I added you to a while back — definitely let us know when you have news (iPhone version in the works?) so we can help spread the word more. We’re big fans of co-marketing.

  • David Rutter

    Cheers to putting the ninth virtue into practice.