“World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation.” — Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
I came across this draft from 2010 or 2011, before we’d publicly launched and with just a smattering of beta users we’d recruited one by one. It had a note-to-self: “rewrite this to sound less naive and over-the-top”. I never did that and figure now we might as well just admire the over-the-top-ness:
I’m getting pretty excited about this. I feel like we have some real insight into a huge problem. And by huge I mean like a trillion dollar problem. I once saw an estimate of the total amount of money wasted because of irrational procrastination in tax filing. It was something astronomical — hundreds of millions of dollars? But that’s the cost of just one instance of akrasia on one day of the year, and only the monetary cost. The inefficiency from other instances of akrasia (like fitness and weight loss) can be measured in human lives.
“The inefficiency can be measured in human lives”
I’m feeling more and more inspired by that, even though I know there may be deep psychological and sociological reasons keeping this from going mainstream. But the value I personally get out of it is huge. My current contract is at $5k. If it were much less I would, ironically, not worry enough about losing [we used to, stupidly say “losing” instead of “derailing”]. I.e., the value I get out of being self-bound is in the thousands of dollars. I know, the psychology is ridiculous but it’s true: I could shrug off losing a thousand dollars on a Beeminder contract because I would feel like I still came out ahead. The self-binding I had up till I [derailed] would’ve been worth more than the thousand dollar cost. This is one of the tricky things about self-binding — making the stakes high enough. But the point is, the value an individual can get out of this is enormous.
Anyway, it’ll be a long haul to changing the world, but we’ve already made one milestone many startups never do: a handful of users who adore us (some of whom aren’t even friends or family!) and many more who find us useful.
I think all of that is still absolutely true. And it’s nice how there are now thousands of such people instead of a handful. It’s not an impressive growth rate — we’ve stayed ensconced in our very cozy niche — but rereading the above is getting us inspired to go bigger. Not expanding-beyond-nerds bigger but maybe something like the 1/3 of humanity whose psychology is compatible with self-imposed commitment devices intersected with the kind of people who are comfortable using GitHub (a full 1% of the world’s population right there) or play MMORPGs and are a bit technical.
That’s tens of millions of people. We could even throw “is into Quantified Self” into the Venn diagram. That’s so mainstream now — thanks to Fitbit and Apple Health and Strava and Garmin (all of which we integrate with!) — that we’re still talking about millions of people.