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I cannot possibly recommend Beeminder highly enough, if you happen to have the personality type that it works well with.

The basic idea isn't too far off from the million other "habit" apps out there. I say I want to meditate X days a week, tell Beeminder whenever I meditate, Beeminder gives me a pretty (okay, decently attractive) graph of how I'm doing, and they tell me if I'm not meditating as much as I want to.

The key that makes Beeminder stick (heh) is that it makes use of commitment contracts. I don't just say I want to meditate X days a week, I promise Beeminder that if I don't meditate X days a week, I will pay them $5 (or $10, or $30). You can cancel or decrease your goal at any time, but only with a week of heads-up, so you can quit for a well thought out reason but not because you just don't feel like it today.

I've tried to start a lot of habits in my life, but I've historically been very bad at sticking with them for very long. It's so easy to give into the "I'll just do that tomorrow" syndrome.

As an example, here's my Beeminder graph for "tidying up": https://www.beeminder.com/jds02006/tidyup

I love having a clean desk, but historically I'd have a clean desk every 6 months, followed by a slow accretion of messy crap. Now, if I don't spend 5 minutes tidying up my work area every few days, I'll have to pay Beeminder $30. Result: my desk area is completely clear.

It sounds crazy (to my wife, at least), but it's ridiculously good at bringing your long-term goals (and the consequences for not achieving them) into the present.

Disclaimer: I have no association with Beeminder, but they have sent me stickers for making bug reports. :)

Wait, do you pay the company Beeminder that money?

Or is it paid into a savings account or something for you to have access to later?

If you actually pay the company that money, and if their app is based around that pricing, that's a pretty unique business model idea.

Yep, I pay Beeminder when I fail! As I see it, it's a mutually beneficial arrangement: Beeminder gets an incentive to keep operating, and I get an incentive to do whatever it was I just dropped the ball on. Maybe I'd feel differently if Beeminder were a huge, super-profitable company, but they're a tiny niche product that is ridiculously valuable to me and I have no problem rewarding them for that.

The company making money when you fail a goal doesn't sound very mutually beneficial.

Take a look at what they've written on their site when you have time; it's more thought out than you might expect.

The gist is that they make money by a) selling a monthly subscription to give you more options and features, and b) charging you the amounts too small to motivate you so you can get up to the amounts that you take seriously.

They've set up their pricing so that you will pay half of the motivating amount to find the motivating amount, e.g., you might lose $5+10+30 over three weeks in order to find out that the threat of paying $90 motivates you. They argue that most people would never feel that $90 threat without experiencing the first $45 of losses because they'd either not sign up for $90 right away or cancel quickly since they hadn't sunk anything into the program.

Their more experienced users pay the monthly premium to skip the first few weeks of penalties and make progress faster since they already know the level of financial risk that motivates them. They also let you adjust the number down since circumstances and habits can change your ideal wager.

do you have any particular blogposts in mind that go into details of what you explained here?

They've written a lot. I suggest the early essays on akrasia.

I guess all I can say to this is that Beeminder has been worth many, many times what I've paid them (hence the evangelism), and I've paid them quite a lot. You might worry about perverse incentives, but they're going to make a lot more money by creating happy customers like me than by somehow tricking their users into failure for a one-time cashout.

Yeah the money goes to beeminder. I've paid several times but it's been worth it since I can make a credible commitment to myself to do something. And the enforcement is very forgiving - if you decide you don't want to do something you can let yourself quit in a week. Also every time I've had to talk to support (I forgot to put data in or there was some issue) they've been pleasant and refunded me completely.

At this point I know my limits fairly well and set goals I'll actually want to achieve. I still pay for the premium features, though, which let me use beeminder as a capable generalized scheduling and tracking system for irregular tasks (e.g. remind me if I haven't called my grandmother in three weeks).

Three questions:

How much have you had to pay beeminder?

How do you make payments (escrow, credit card, PayPal, etc)?

Is it a non-profit?

It seems like this would be a great opportunity for a non-profit. Although it may reduce the incentive a bit. I expect it will be psychologically similar. Especially if the non-profit overhead is something like 10%. You are effectively losing 10% of what could have gone directly to your non-profit of choice.

> How much have you had to pay beeminder?

about $300 or so, much of it front-loaded towards early on when I was still gaining some necessary meta-habits, like "check beeminder carefully every morning/night."

> How do you make payments (escrow, credit card, PayPal, etc)?

They're credit card only for now.

> It seems like this would be a great opportunity for a non-profit.

I have no problem rewarding Beeminder for a service I find many times more valuable than what I pay them. Paying Beeminder my pledges is voluntary and mutually beneficial--they get an incentive to keep the service running, I get an incentive to improve my behavior. I like giving to charity too, but I'm fine with my Beeminder contracts strictly rewarding Beeminder.

I've probably spent about 300$ on beeminder in the last 2.5 years in payments on goals and a premium subscription for some added features. It has helped me lose weight, finish academic work and deliver projects. It's been worth it.

That said, you can be conservative in your goals and spend zero $ on the service. It's all up to you.

Their FAQ is here: https://www.beeminder.com/faq

1. You set the payment amount, but the default is exponential. (Edit: didn't read your comment thoroughly enough the first time to know you were referring to the OP, not the general policy.)

2. Payments are done via credit card, although Paypal support seems to be in the works.

3. It does not appear to be a non-profit. It looks like a business where Beeminder's living is made off of people paying when they fail their goals.

Their company's success depends on their product's failure. Pretty funny if you ask me.

Oh man, we really need to bump this to the top of our FAQ :)


But maybe the best way to refute that is that we've been around 5.5 years and our long-term churn (not counting short-term churn of dabblers which is embarrassingly high cuz Beeminder is super nerdy and intimidating-looking!) is only 2%/month.

PS: Huge thanks to enoch_r for the beautiful testimonial!

Premium seems really pricey as the only one that has a "give to charity" option. I expect some increased options to give to charity (10,20,40,60) would be a significant boost to good will / advertisement. "50% but only if you pay us $30+/mo" comes off as kind of greedy.

Super valuable feedback; thank you!

I realize your feedback is about the impression it gives, totally separate from how greedy we actually are, but we're still tiny ($22k/mo revenue with 3.5 FTEs). And like enoch_r and mgiannopoulos have averred, paying the penalties to Beeminder generally feels super fair. So that's why we've limited the charity option to the ultra-VIP plan. (We're super open to more feedback about this though. We tend to get a highly biased sample of opinion from our users, i.e., the people who weren't immediately put off by our apparent greed. :))

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