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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