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Stars in the sky

Previously on the blog, we pitched a particular framing of Beeminder in which paying is not punishment. People seem into it! Which is good because it was setting the stage for this announcement: We’ve killed the old weaselproofing feature and replaced it with something we think is much better: No-Excuses Mode.

To put the bottom line up front, especially for future readers who may not care much what weaselproofing used to be, here’s what No-Excuses Mode means:

  1. You can’t call non-legit on a derailment unless there was a Beeminder bug
  2. The closing of various loopholes with autodata
  3. You can’t delete the goal even in the first week

That’s the only offering we have as of today — No-Excuses Mode or nothing. If you don’t opt in to that then, as always, you can reply to the email we send when you derail and explain why the derailment was not legit and we will believe you and cancel the charge. We email you when you derail regardless of whether No-Excuses Mode is on, but if it’s on then the email is mainly an FYI.

What was wrong with weaselproofing? (And what was it?)

Before today, turning on weaselproofing for a goal meant that if you derailed and then replied to the legit check that the derailment wasn’t legit, we’d ask for proof of your excuse. Doctors’ notes, screenshots, a friend vouching for you. Something like that. It also included numbers 2 and 3 above, about closing loopholes and not being able to delete a goal in the first week like you normally can.

So what was wrong with that? Several things! For starters, it was never very popular. Maybe most important, the implied distrust was kind of icky. Most pragmatically, it turned out that processing the proof — examining screenshots, pulling in people to vouch for the excuse, and just the general back-and-forth — was quite costly for us. If you want that level of human interaction, you’re probably looking for something like our friends and integration partner, Boss as a Service. Finally, it just encouraged the wrong mentality. See “Paying Is Not Punishment” for the mentality we do want to encourage.

Ok, enough about weaselproofing! Good riddance.

Does No-Excuses Mode mean literally no excuses?

The only exception to “no excuses” is for technical problems that are Beeminder’s fault. We also take responsibility for our official integration partners. But that’s not transitive. If you’re getting data from, say, Zapier and Zapier itself has an outage, that counts as our fault. If the service you connected at the other end flakes out, that’s a risk you’re taking.

Are we really so heartless that we’re going to tell someone tough luck if their internet goes out, or they get cancer? My contention is that you should factor all those risks in when you click that button. No matter how cold-hearted it may make us feel, it would defeat the point of No-Excuses Mode to override the derailment charge via any kind of human discretion.

“No-Excuses Mode is not for weasels. It’s for the most impressive, hard-core Beeminder users.”

Opting in to no-excuses mode means you accept that some derailments will happen that you didn’t have a way to prevent but that those will be rare enough. You value the brightness of the bright red line enough that the occasional “unfair” derailment is worth it. Partly it’s a quantified-self-über-alles mentality. It doesn’t matter why you crossed the red line. The data is what it is and you either kept it on the right side of that line or you didn’t.

That has some appeal to the most impressive Beeminder users.

Which is in stark contrast to weaselproofing. The most impressive Beeminder users have no temptation to weasel and need no insurance against doing so. But opting in to No-Excuses Mode is just the maximally hard-core version of Beeminder. Many of us want that.

What if some weasel makes an excuse anyway?

We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it but here’s some brainstorming.

Hi Userperson, your cat got sick, you say? Sounds like you don’t want No-Excuses Mode on this goal after all? You can go ahead and turn it off and that will take effect right away. But for this derailment we’d be derelict in our duty as a commitment device if we canceled the charge when No-Excuses Mode was turned on. Does that feel fair?

Or maybe just leveraging guilt could suffice: “Ok, we’ll ultimately do what you say but you very explicitly promised not to tell us to cancel the charge here.”

We could even conceivably dial it to eleven and say (more diplomatically than this) that we can cancel the charge but only by deleting your Beeminder account. The reasoning would be that not paying the pledge is a failure to hold up your end of the commitment contract. Violating the sanctity of that means ruining your relationship with Beeminder. By that reasoning, insisting on your money back is tantamount to admitting that you don’t have sufficient integrity for Beeminder to help you and so we simply break up.

Again, this is just brainstorming!

We can’t and won’t actually ever keep money you don’t ultimately choose to give us so if we really want to enforce No-Excuses Mode, deleting your account would be the most leverage we have. We predict that that’s utterly unnecessary though.

There’s just one more potential excuse to consider, that might actually be common, though necessarily not from you, dear reader who’s reading this whole blog post. Namely, what about someone who clicks the button to opt in to no-excuses without actually reading what they’re agreeing to? The initial implementation looks as follows, admittedly not the most conducive to ensuring the user has their eyes wide open about this.

Screenshot with 'OPT IN TO NO-EXCUSES MODE' button

Mostly this is another bridge we’ll cross if we come to it. We could make you type something to prove you understand what you’re agreeing to. Alternatively we could just treat “I didn’t read what I clicked on” as the only other exception to No-Excuses Mode — just that you can only use it once. Telling us next time that you forgot to uncheck the box certainly wouldn’t cut it.

Anything else?

One other change that’s part of this switch from weaselproofing to No-Excuses Mode is that we’ve dropped the akrasia-proofing. If you opted in to the old weaselproofing, we wouldn’t let you turn it back off (without talking to us and waiting a week). After all, you had declared yourself a weasel. But No-Excuses Mode is not for weasels. It’s for the most impressive, hard-core Beeminder users. So you’re free to opt in and out at will.

(That does defeat some of the point, like locking yourself in on a newly created goal. We have a solution to that coming: You’ll be able to instantly archive and delete any goal that has $0 pledged on it. If you want to lock yourself in, just bump it up to a non-zero pledge. Again, that’s not the status quo yet, just what we have planned. We’ll likely prioritize it based on how many people tell us they really need a way to lock themselves in on new goals. UPDATE: People do not seem to need this! The idea is now on hold.)

We’re pretty excited about the direction this is moving us. Of course we have a big ulterior motive here. More people opting into No-Excuses Mode will obviously tend to make us more money. We think that’s all highly win-win, that it will also push you harder and make you get more done, or do more of whatever you’re using Beeminder to do more of or do less of what you’re using Beeminder to do less of.

It may even help set the stage for eventually getting rid of premium plans. Maybe eventually No-Excuses Mode can just be How Beeminder Works with some way to (insert wild hand-waving here) outsource an excuse-making version to Boss as a Service somehow? We don’t know yet how or if that can work but maybe we’ll think of a way now that we’ve cleared out this weaselproofing monstrosity!


UPDATE: We added a small deterrent to opting back out of No-Excuses Mode right before you derail. Try it to see what we mean!


Thanks to Clarissa Littler, Lawrence Evalyn, Benjamin Fox (zzq), poisson, Robert Perce, and many other Beeminder users for valuable feedback and discussion.