That’s right my little bees: we put a commitment device in our commitment device to bring out the commitment flavor of the commitment device.
Does everyone know the soup nazi from Seinfeld? Basically it’s an interesting episode in Seinfeldnomics (and boy howdy do we like economics) where there’s a soup stand that gets really popular, but the guy selling the soup fires customers if they don’t order correctly, and so Elaine and Jerry and the gang start referring to him as “the soup nazi”. Which I guess is funny because he’s refusing to do business with people who want to give him money? But clearly his business is doing just-fine-thank-you. And actually, well, he should clearly just hike the price on his soup until his supply meets the demand without him getting all stressed out and cranky at the customers. But maybe he likes screaming at people? In which case maybe the status quo is just fine from his point of view.
Anyway, I digress. We were talking recently about doing experiments on all of you. Like na[oops, no, we are being told in no uncertain terms that we cannot make this joke]! In particular we were talking about the trade-off between expected value of any particular experiment and expected cost. If something has a small chance of having a large effect, but it’s cheap and fast to do, then why not try it out?
A couple years ago we tried out what would happen if we just killed the free plan — signing up meant coughing up for a premium subscription on day one. Answer: signups plummeted. So we undid that. And it led us to concluding that Beeminder should be pledge-focused. The year before that we tried the commitwall which was an absolutely massive success. Learning things!
We’re not exactly short on problems to solve, but the one that’s been perhaps most salient of late is improving our onboarding gulf. We still get a lot of people who sign up for Beeminder but never get around to creating any goals at all. We’ve got a nice list of Obvious Things To Try, like writing interactive tutorials, a series of onboarding emails that keeps re-prompting users through getting started, office hours, building goal creation into sign up, just overhauling goal creation in general, making clonable goals, etc etc. These are all great ideas. But they’re all pretty high cost to implement.
So then we came up with a crazier thing to try, that has a smaller chance of being a good idea, but is much simpler to implement than any of those things: Signing up for Beeminder is itself a commitment device.
If you’re here, checking us out, you’re probably into the idea of a commitment device. So the idea is that by signing up, we are putting you on the hook to make a goal after signing up, or we will charge you money. And if you’re not on board with that, you might not be in Beeminder’s target audience anyway. (In case you are wondering, this is related to the soup nazi because it intentionally turns away a subset of potential customers.)
We threw some extra clarification into the registration form:
That “Questions?” link has these additional details in a popup:
We make you type out what you want to beemind, and agree to the meta commitment device. Once you’re all signed up that intention gets sent to the workerbees and they say howdy and prod you to get on it if you’ve not created a goal already. That opens up a handy channel to talk to a human if you’re confused. And now you’ve got Damocles’s $5 hanging over your head prompting you to actually follow through.
This was super peasy to do because
- we were already collecting the intentions and sending them to the workerbees, who
- already welcome newbees and offer assistance with getting started for people who are stuck.
So pretty much all we had to do with registration was write some words in, and add a new check for the existence of the string “$5” in your “intentions” response. We also added a nice little countdown to the empty gallery page et voila.
Anyhow, it’s not the most uncontroversial thing we’ve tried but mostly no one thought it was too crazy of an idea so, as of last week, we’re trying it!
It has dampened signups a little but that seems to be more than made up for in getting people to actually create goals. Of the people that signed up in the past week since we deployed this, 22% have not created any goals. We don’t have enough data yet on how many people are going to hit that one-week wall and actually get charged — only one person so far! The percentage with no goals at all in the two weeks immediately prior to that was 58%.
If it continues to go well we’ll be tempted to bump up the amount at risk to $10 or $20 instead of the current $5. Or jump to the logical conclusion of all this and require the creation of a meta goal as part of signup. But getting that right would take a lot more thought than this simple gateway drug commitment device did.