Pledge Short-Circuiting

Saturday, December 8, 2012
By dreeves

A close up of a circuit board

Until now [1] you haven’t had much choice about how much to pledge (put at risk) on your Beeminder commitment contracts. It starts out free, then $5, then each subsequent time you derail from your yellow brick road you’re encouraged (though not forced) to jump to the next pledge level for your next attempt:

$5, $10, $30, $90, $270, $810, $2430

$2430 is the highest anyone’s gotten (with $810 the highest amount actually paid so far). Until now you could choose to stay at your current pledge after derailing but you could never go back down. You could also never choose to jump ahead in the pledge schedule.

Neither of those restrictions felt quite right. We want to give you as much control as possible about how much money you have on the line, subject to three constraints:

  1. There’s a simple default path so you never have to think about the potentially agonizing question of what’s a motivating pledge amount.
  2. You can’t akratically lower your pledge amount, like lower it because you’re about to derail. In other words, you have to respect the akrasia horizon.
  3. You can’t jump straight to amounts that really motivate you since Beeminder never gets paid that way.

We see #1 as part of the reason Beeminder beats the pants off of our esteemed competitor, StickK: more flexibility and less pre-planning (not to mention the delicious, delicious data). And #2, of course, is part of the whole point of a commitment contract. But #3 is a shame to have as a constraint! We want “making people awesome” to always come before “making Beeminder money”, though they’re largely quite compatible! We’re now announcing what we hope is a way to have the best of both worlds.


UPDATE 2014-05-18: Short-circuiting doesn’t work like this anymore! Scroll to the bottom!

At any time you can click a button to bump your pledge up to the next level, which will pop up something like this:

“Short circuiting the pledge schedule means you actually pay the current pledge! We hope you’ll view that as a fair fee for the service but of course if you haven’t been using Beeminder long enough then you’ll probably want to stay at the $5 pledge for now and not pay anything yet.”
       Cancel                Charge me $5 and change my pledge to $10

It feels a little harsh but it’s better than no option to jump ahead, so it’s what we’re starting with!

Pledge Decaying

The other side of this coin is that you can also click a button to drop your pledge down to the previous level, which will immediately start a live one-week timer, counting down to when the decrease takes effect. At any time during that week you can hit cancel and stay at your current pledge. If you let the timer run out then the amount you have on the line drops.

The only way to go back up is (currently) to short-circuit, by paying the lower pledge.

We’re eager to see how much people use these features, and are very open to suggestions on how to tweak them. Right now the cost to have $X immediately on the line for a goal is $X/2. We could make that, say, $X/4 by making it so that you pay half the current pledge to short-circuit to the next level. [UPDATE: And done.]

Update: How to get free short-circuiting

You now also have the option of getting free short-circuiting by paying for our Beemium plan. Again, pledge decaying is always free, just that it has a delay.

Another Update: Just one way to short-circuit

In the spirit of simplifying — and because we just sounded like huge jerks asking people to pay us purely in order to risk paying us more (fair as that was in principle, for those who actually read this post) — we now have just one way to short-circuit the pledge schedule: Go Beemium. Technically that’s still paying us in order to short-circuit but it’s one of many perks so hopefully it sounds like less of a slap in the face. Keep letting us know what you think and thank you so much for all the feedback that led us to this conclusion in the first place!


Thanks to Michael Schwarz for convincing us to include the pledge decay option. As Dr Schwarz pointed out, doing so helps Beeminder comport with the principles of Progressive Discipline (if you view Beeminder as an elaborate self-punishment scheme, which is not wholly unreasonable).


[1] We actually deployed these new features more than two weeks ago (as @beemuvi tweeted here and here) but it has taken us till now to announce them on the blog. Yes, today is an emergency blog post day.

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  • Thomas Powell

    I don’t intend to use the short circuit at $X/2 but would consider it at $X/4 or better.

    I’m not sure I agree with your implied assertion that people will know accurately the amount that motivates them. It would be interesting to see A/B testing results as I think letting people increase pledge sizes more easily is likely to get you more money.

    One other thing is that I expect people do know when an amount is far too low to motivate them. Therefore you are facing your new, would be high paying, users with the choice of an unmotivating pledge or paying money without having received any value yet.

    P.S. Cutting it fine with the blog post, I’m watching for my $270 :)

  • Daniel Reeves

    Thanks Thomas! I think we’re now convinced to try $X/4 (ie, you pay half of the current pledge to jump to the next pledge, yielding a total of $X/4 to jump to $X at risk). And we may well A/B test that, so just let us know if you find yourself in a bucket you don’t like!

  • Mark Forster

    I left quite a long comment on here two days ago, which seems to have got lost. However I don’t want to have to write it all out again if it’s still lurking somewhere.

  • Daniel Reeves

    Anguished wail! I’m not seeing anything in the spam net. I really hope this wasn’t our fault. I had thought that Disqus was pretty reliable…

    Extremely eager to read your thoughts on this in any case.

  • Daniel Reeves

    I spoke too soon! It wasn’t in the spam net for our own blog but disqus has its own spam net that I was just able to rescue your comment from. I rescued a couple others as well, from other people. Sorry about that, Mark et al!

  • Daniel Reeves

    That experiment is super compelling! :) It’s just a bit of a monkey wrench in our road width algorithm — — which is why we’re so slow on this. We think we’ll end up at the best of all worlds eventually though! Definitely keep bugging us — we honestly appreciate that a lot since we’re always tugged in lots of directions and it helps us prioritize. As you can see — — it’s a challenge even for us to keep up with all the things we’re changing all the time. :)

    Another thing in the works that addresses the letting-you-off-the-hook-on-reset problem from another angle is our precommit-to-recommit idea. We actually have a version of that available in the admin interface now so if anyone wants to guinea-pig that one just let us know and we can turn it on for you.

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  • Bill Adams

    I have derailed, I want to stop lying, pay my current pledge of thirty and start over at my new (actual) high weight with a pledge of 90. And I want to do it now, tonight, while I actually have the 30 bucks, I don’t want to wait a week. I don’t want to short-circuit. Contrary to the description in this post, the short-circuit talks about half my pledge instead of my pledge; it also implies I can pay the full pledge but gives me no way to do so; when I click on 90 I just get this popup to take or leave.

    [Edit: I originally had some other whiny complaints here, which turned out, on further examination, to be groundless. I don’t have the full humility to leave them here, but I acknowledge they were stupid. But I still wish it were a lot simpler to just pay my pledge and reset my road and start over in the morning. It’s very unmotivating to have to wait.]

  • Daniel Reeves

    Oh, ha, your edit is very kind, though I actually did see the original (I get alerts of new comments by email). I was all in damage-control mode and am relieved that you do still love us! :) And I actually don’t disagree even with your harsher version. The only consolation is that we’re getting better literally every day:

    As for the specific confusion about paying the pledge vs half the pledge, note the last paragraph, ending “UPDATE: And done”.

    I think the general solution is going to be something like a button to cry uncle and let the derailment happen immediately. Philip Hellyer has been pushing for this for a while as well. We just need to find a way to do it without slapping on yet another button. :)

    Anyway, hugely appreciate this feedback. Please keep it coming! (Bluntness welcome as well.)

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  • ADHD Coach

    I would like the precommit to recommit option please (and would like to share with my ADHD clients at my facebook group How do I get in on this?

  • Daniel Reeves

    Thanks for asking! It’s actually live for everyone now:

  • Максим

    Hello. My name’s Max, I’m a student from Ukraine and $1 is already motivational for me. Is there a way to pledge only $1?

  • Daniel Reeves

    Not currently! At some point we intend to look at supporting multiple currencies which may solve this problem. In the meantime you could do things like keeping the slope of your yellow brick road very conservative so there’s a very small chance of derailing with $5 at risk. In fact, initially there’s $0 at risk so maybe you’ll find it motivating to not derail even once so as to avoid having to risk $5.