(Not) Embracing Sting Dilution

Here’s some philosophizing and strategery from a recent daily beemail. I’m going to bury the guts of it because – based on dozens of replies to the beemail – we’re pretty much convinced to drop the idea. Not totally convinced, but pretty convinced. The whole thought experiment was valuable though and I wanted to have it in the forum for posterity.

You can go ahead and answer the poll without reading the background.

Pricing experiments and sting dilution

Recently we tried a kind of opportunistic experiment with not having a free plan while hiring our newest support workerbee, Robin. For a few weeks, everyone had to go straight to Infinibee at $8/mo to even sign up. That seemed to be a bad idea. What about the other extreme? Maybe almost nothing should be paywalled. More goals = more money = more user-awesomeness. Anything (like premium plans) that throttles goal creation ultimately hurts us. It’s a theory we’re probing.

So here’s some total Sky Pie but let’s run with the thought experiment…

Kill the free plan AND kill the premium plans. Namely, after a generous initial trial period, you have to pay Beeminder at least $X/mo.

You could think of it as “you didn’t derail enough so we’re charging you to get you to the minimum” or you could think of it as “Beeminder costs $X/mo but derailments are applied as credit”. (Probably the latter is the better spin!)

It sounds like anathema but what if it’s great? We’ve always thought of “don’t dilute the sting” as inviolable but if we reject that, maybe everything else gets way better. Pretend we’re Einstein rejecting one principle (speed is always relative) that defies all common sense to reject but that makes everything else fall into place!

Arguments that sting dilution is totes ok:

  1. Derailing’s not failing and acclimatizing users to derailing is awesomeness-increasing.
  2. Derailing is kind of the opposite of failing. You derail by having ambitious goals and that makes you get more accomplished. So even literally incentivizing derails is :100:.
  3. The initial $0 and $5 derailments aren’t motivating anyway. You need to get up to your motivation point. Having a derailment quota barely changes that.
  4. Derailing is already partially incentivized because some users (the bestest most amazing ones) want to make sure they’re supporting Beeminder. A lower bound that’s charged no matter what elegantly solves that for them.

(Does it solve it too much, from Beeminder’s perspective, if some users treat themselves to derailments generously, motivated by wanting to support Beeminder and introducing this money-grubbing $X/mo minimum makes them stop doing that?)

Having a minimum amount that everyone pays also elegantly solves the problem of – what’s the diplomatic word? – freeloaders. There’s a particular kind of user – and I think we accidentally encourage this in our marketing copy – who treat Beeminder as a game where the goal is to never ever pay Beeminder a penny. Some of those users have conversations with us in support about each derailment and why it wasn’t legit. It’s not actually common but it’s frustrating when it happens.

If you’re still recoiling at the idea of diluting Beeminder’s sting, we could have an option to pay the $X/mo unconditionally. No, wait, that violates the Anti-Settings Principle. But you could make a dummy goal that derails every month like clockwork to hit the $X/mo minimum. Or we could point you to a third-party tool that hits the “charge me” API endpoint once a month. Or, y’know, we could not be dogmatic about anti-settings and go ahead and give the option to pay us unconditionally if there were real demand for that.

Maybe it all kind of works?

Less than 24 hours ago [from floating this in a beemail last month] I thought this was a ridiculous idea that I asked Bee to help me think through just as an exercise in case it spawned any real ideas. But now it’s actually growing on me, and Bee’s not hating it either. User-me is big on blog.beeminder.com/defail and I’d be happy to have pledges applied to premium and not mind at all a feeling of the first N derailments each month being effectively free.

Does that mean it violates the Anti-Leniency Principle? Well, less egregiously than the examples in the anti-leniency blog post. At least we’re not tampering with the concept of derailing, to make it more lenient. There’s still a single crisp bright line. Rather, it violates anti-leniency similarly to how starting with $0 at risk violates it. This does suggest that if we did this, we’d want to be very clear on where you stood on hitting that $X/mo minimum. The principle is to minimize fuzziness and ambiguity about the consequences of derailing.

Ok, that’s where that idea’s at. It’s drawing heavily from user-me’s feelings and I’m a weirdo, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What if derailments were applied as premium credit? So if you derail plenty then you don’t pay for premium.
  • Sounds nice!
  • I would opt out of that. Don’t wanna dilute the sting or feel partially incentivized to derail!
  • I already feel partially incentivized to derail because I want to support Beeminder.

0 voters

Approval voting, as always. Vote for all that apply.

The results from the beemail replies and the Beeminder Community Discord (combined) are like so:

  • 23 "sounds nice"s
  • 14 "opt out"s (or "don’t even give me that option"s)
  • 9 "already incentivized"s

You’re encouraged to vote again in this forum poll even if you voted via beemail or the Discord.

And here are very paraphrased and very incomplete excerpts from the dozens of beemail replies but I encourage you all to repeat your full replies as comments!

Beemail reply excerpts
  1. “I think it’s a terrible idea [+ comprehensive tearing to shreds of all the arguments in favor of sting dilution]”
  2. “The one-time yearly premium payment is (usually) far enough away that it wouldn’t really affect my feelings about derailing (as long as actual money comes out of my actual account when I derail)”
  3. “Sort of does dilute the sting for me”
  4. “I don’t want extra mental management overhead”
  5. “Incentivizing derails across the board isn’t actually awesomeness-increasing”
  6. “I don’t find most of beeminder’s value in derailments; I find a ton in the way rerailing is handled, compared to almost anything else I’ve seen out there. The combination of automaticity, buffer, etc is pretty great. I’ve never been particularly into the sting aspect, though it’s possibly growing on me slightly over time.”
  7. “For me ‘Beeminder is a game where the goal is to never ever pay Beeminder a penny’ is kind of the point”
  8. “This sounds like the exact opposite of what I want; I would be happy to pay an initial $ amount to create a new goal”
  9. “Oh no, now I’m worrying I’m one of those users who has conversations with you in support about why every derailment is not legit and never pays for them [ironically said by the exact opposite of that kind of user]”
  10. “No, no, no! Agh, no! No, no, no! This would destroy Beeminder, or at least Beeminder-as-I-now-use-it-and-value-it”
  11. “My gut reaction as a student was yes!”
  12. “I’ve always kind-of felt this was the right approach. For me, derailing is the sting.”
  13. “I don’t think it’d figure into my reactions to an imminently derailing goal”
  14. “If derails no longer cost money in some situations, then, in my mind, Beeminder is not doing its job”
  15. “Having the service cost a certain amount each month or year makes sense”
  16. “If you do that, please please implement a way to cry uncle on a goal first”
  17. [A couple Beemium people emphasized they don’t want stings (monetary commitment devices) at all ever but Beeminder needs to not be focused on that use case – Beeminder is allll about stings]
  18. “Noooooo. As soon as you have a set number of ‘free’ derailments per month, now that’s a resource that has to be used or lost.”
  19. “I buy the argument that this would help get people used to routine goal derails as a good thing. Even after five years, I’m pretty derail averse even though I totally buy the derailing isn’t failing argument.”
  20. “The framing changes how I feel about it entirely even though it’s functionally equivalent”
  21. “What if you give people imaginary currency for each dollar in their monthly budget that they paid to you but not out of derailment fees?”

Again, my conclusion so far is that this was a fascinating thought experiment and generated some profound, insightful, and passionate feedback and the conclusion is that we don’t want to actually do this. I really appreciate being able to think it through with you all!


Ya, I think I’d be better not having that option. I wouldn’t want to derail my commitments that matter to me, but I could totally see gaming a system like this by setting up a dummy commitment just to derail it as often as needed to earn premium and wouldn’t want to be tempted to do that or be incentivized to derail on my commitments. Like how stickK won’t let you set your own email up as the recipient of the stakes (though who doesn’t have more than one email, I suppose :crazy_face: )

I could see myself getting premium at some point, likely once I’ve gotten a few tasks set up and running well for a while and am ready to add more &/or diff types and have gotten enough value from it that I want to thank the creators :star_struck:


If I understand correctly, this wouldn’t actually gain you anything. You’d pay $X a month on the dummy goal and save $X a month on premium payments.

The only way it gains you anything is if you’d have to pay the derailments anyway.


Good point, @zedmango; however, the proposal (as I read it) didn’t stipulate that the cost of derailments would offset the cost of premium, just the number of derailments. One could set up a goal with $0 on the line, derail it multiple times and (if it’s based on number of derailments), earn/maintain premium status that way.

That said, I think your interpretation of dollar for dollar offsetting the cost of premium is likely more what @dreev envisioned and you’re right, it would just balance out. It would still be a perverse incentive that I for one don’t want to have to struggle against. Beeminder is a valuable service worth paying for.

I’m still a fairly newbee (returning after checking it out before there was a mobile app), but I can see that the sting is the whole point of Beeminding. Even if I might never have to feel it, knowing it’s there has (so far) been enough to keep me on track à la sword of Damocles.

I’ve done StepBets and RunBets for years and the thought of losing my ‘bet’ is enough motivation to get me exercising for weeks at a time with just $40 on the line (that and the promise of winning a share of what others lose hehehe :smiling_imp:). More recently, I’ve been doing games in WayBetter as well, and some of those games are as little as $5-10. I’ve replaced all my stickK commitments with either WayBetter Inc. games or Beeminder commitments. I know I’m effectively promoting your competition here, but if there’s something to take from it it’s that:

a) automation wins - just logging requires activation energy and time that’s better put to other activities (like writing long-winded responses to blogs, apparently :crazy_face:) and Waybetter is really good at setting up games that pull from trackers (though obviously not everything can be pulled automatically, which is where photo submissions and Beeminder come in).

b) simplicity wins - there’s almost no user configurable settings. Players join pre-defined time-delimited games which take all the thought out of it, beyond checking one’s schedule and reaching for one’s wallet. (Unlikely the complexity and customization of Beeminder, which pleases us nerds :nerd_face:, but is probably intimidating to most regular folks)

c) winning from the losses of others sets up an incentive to recruit more users, something I don’t inherently see in Beeminder (though that reminds me, I do need to tell my brother about it so we can geek out together #GraphsFTW!)

I see Beeminder as a player at a level above Waybetter, in terms of flexibility (Beemind anything you can figure out how to) and longevity (no pre-defined end points), so I think there’s space and a market for both.

IF @dreev is considering alternative funding structures, what about making profit-sharing a perk of premium membership? I often only get a 5-15% return on a Waybetter Inc game, but, coupled with loss-aversion, it’s a powerful motivator and a selling feature of their premium membership. For Beeminder, two basic approaches come to mind:

a) a straight co-op where premium members get profit sharing based on a sliding scale depending on how long they’ve been a Premium member in good standing

b) a slightly more complex model that I haven’t fully thought out (brainstorming here…) where only a few large group commitments are eligible with pre-defined parameters. You have the data on your end to know what the most popular commitments are. Users could sign up via adding a specific hashtag to their description (for example?) and then results could be calculated monthly, with a set proportion of derailment proceeds going to premium users who didn’t derail. Since this arrangement is vulnerable to cheating, a requirement for weasel protection to be enabled and for games to be limited to those that can pull data automatically might be necessary pre-requisites.

As with WayBetter Inc. the payouts could be in ‘points’ equivalent 1:1 for USD that can be used towards future premium membership payments or cashed out via PayPal (might not want to incentivize derailment though and not allow them to be put towards offsetting those - the extra step and delay of cashing out via PayPal AND the cut they might take should provide some disincentive).

Not to ‘derail’ this discussion thread, but I would be interested in anyone’s thoughts. I’d definitely beemind more if it was coupled with the promise of a return, no matter how small.

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A third approach is an add-on contest, similar to the Survivor contest last year, that involves everyone creating a goal and in addition to the pledge, adding an “ante” shared among the users who don’t derail.


Nice! That’s a good one too, @zedmango. I was mostly using stickK and the Waybetter family of apps last year, having only recently learned there was an app and returned to Beeminder, so I missed that one, but it sounds like something I’d for sure have joined into.

I assume you were part of it? How did it go for you personally? (I’ll search the forums for previous discussions as well, now that I know about it :grin:

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I didn’t make it through the year! I reorganized my goals halfway through the year or so. If I had “anted up” it would have gotten distributed to the winners.


Ohhhh! A whole year?! Wow - no wonder it’s a survivor game! I’m a constant tweaker, so it would be hard for me to go a whole year without reorg’ing my goals too. Though with only minor tweaks, I did go over a whole year on some stickK commitments last year (I’ve recently started Beeminding most of those now instead), and twice have made it to +300 days of logging in MyFitnessPal, so with a survivor goal on the line, who knows lol :thinking:

You could probably find a way to reorganize while preserving your survivor goals, but I fell behind at some point and tried something different.

It was set up so you won a lesser prize with one derailment I think.

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