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no weasels

Remember our elaborate SOS clause? It describes in excruciating detail what to do if unforeseen circumstances cause you to drive off your yellow brick road. Well, we’ve since realized it suffices to just believe people. If you don’t want us to “just believe you” — it does have the danger of defeating the whole point of a commitment contract! — then we have a “weasel-proof me” check box in advanced settings.

“Here’s our rule of thumb”

But what are good criteria for deciding if a derailment is legitimate? Sometimes the circumstances that led to a derailment make it ambiguous. Here’s our rule of thumb: If you had thought to spell it out in your fine print for the commitment contract, would you have chosen to have an exemption for circumstances like these?

Ideally we want two things to be true any time someone goes off their yellow brick road and loses a pledge:

  1. It was due purely to akrasia.
  2. The motivation that Beeminder provided up until the derailment was worth more than the amount paid.

The ideal might be unreachable because we need objective criteria for when the pledge should be forfeit. (Though even that we’re not sure about — would it work to just ask you if you felt the derailment was akratic? (UPDATE 2021: Our answer is now no. We’ve had some users over the years who’ve tried to use that as their criterion and it’s pretty awful.))

As a bare minimum so far, we’ve been using this policy: Is there anything the platonic ideal of Beeminder could’ve done to prevent this derailment? Maybe better reminders, like separate SMS reminders just for emergency days?

If so (if you can tell us so with a straight face) then we don’t count it as a legit derailment. Unless of course you checked the “weasel-proof me” box.

UPDATE: The “weasel-proof me” checkbox is something you have to opt in to in the goal’s settings. (A previous update clarified that this was different from the “I swear not to weasel” checkbox that everyone had to check as part of goal creation. We got rid of that, mostly because of this confusion. There’s always an implicit promise not to weasel when you create a Beeminder goal. The “weasel-proof me” checkbox is specifically authorizing us to be hard-nosed in the face of ambiguously extenuating circumstances. We now, in 2021, have further plans to replace weaselproofing with something we’re calling “no-excuses mode”. Stay tuned! FURTHER UPDATE: Done!)