Beeminder Forum

On making Beeminder more appealing to a wider audience

#1

I’m a fan of Beeminder. But I’m a long-time behavioural economics nerd who’s worked on my own productivity systems. I’m pretty much the longest hanging fruit Beeminder could get.

Unfortunately, Beeminder isn’t the kind of thing I could recommend to my aunt. People like her are going to see the mathematical notation in the background of the intro video, frequent use of terms like “akrasia” and “data nerdery” in the blog posts, and forums dominated by techie types and immediately feel like Beeminder isn’t for them.

I’ve seen dreeves argue (e.g. in https://blog.beeminder.com/typebee/) that Beeminder is likely to only appeal to a small percentage of the population. Perhaps that is the case for how it is right now. But I’m not sure that’s an inherent limitation. I think that the basic principle behind Beeminder could be appreciated by the average person. I think if I were to try to explain it to a general audience, my pitch would be something like:

“It’s a daily habit tracker, but with a couple of twists. Firstly, you can “bank” your results, so you could e.g do twice as much today in order to take a break tomorrow. Secondly, if you fail, you’re faced with ever-increasing fines, in order to motivate you to keep up the habit”.

Maybe that doesn’t quite capture the totality of what Beeminder is. But I think it’s pretty close, and more importantly I think it’s easier to grasp than talking about graphs and yellow brick roads. Furthermore, it strikes me as something that a broader segment of the population could potentially be interested in. (Consider Weight Watchers, a billion dollar company).

So what are some practical steps that Beeminder could make to broaden its appeal? Here’s some ideas:

Tell a better story

I like the metaphor of fine = bee-sting. Unfortunately, bees aren’t really anywhere to be seen in your goal-tracking. Instead, you derail… from your yellow brick road… what?

This might seem a bit nitpicky. But I think that if you’re the kind of data nerd that Beeminder currently targets, you’re probably also the kind of person that’s more interested in numbers than stories. However, a large fraction of the population is the opposite.

Just changing a few words around would be a start. “Derail” is the most obvious culprit - it has nothing to do with either bees or roads. Perhaps it could be changed to “crash” or “fall off” if you’re keeping the road metaphor, or (my preference), you’re “stung” by the bee.

Redesign the graphs

The graphs and surrounding interface are pretty sterile-looking, like something out of Excel. Fine if you’re the sort of person who regularly uses Excel or similar programs, but intimidating and aesthetically unappealing otherwise.

A small change would be just adding a bit of colour, so it’s no longer a mostly white graph on a white background.

A larger change could involve adding pictures - maybe there’s a cartoon bee or hive on the graph somewhere. Maybe a bee moves closer to you each day, giving a visual representation of its “sting”.

A significant change could involve conceptualising Beeminder as almost like an RPG. Dates and data are abstracted away, instead your sole objective becomes something like “stay away from the bee”. Entering “good” data helps you run away from the bee, otherwise the bee gets closer. This variant might not even display graphs as we know it in the default version, instead only showing the distance to the bee, with users needing to manually select the ability to view the full graphs.

Significant changes would, of course, be time-consuming to implement, and run the risk of coming across as corny and alienating existing users. But one big advantage is that it could maintain the existing good incentives that Beeminder provides with a more accessible and entertaining interface. It no longer becomes necessary for people to understand much about the underlying process, only that’s it’s a “game” that “just works”.

(If you’d ask “Habitica exists, so why turn Beeminder into an RPG?”, my answer would be a) I think Beeminder’s system is superior to Habitica and b) I’m not really suggesting turning Beeminder into an actual RPG, i.e. with something like items and quests being a central component, only that you could abstract away some of the core aspects in an RPG-like manner).

A greater emphasis on community?

My understanding of Weight Watchers is that the community element is a large reason for its success. I’m now thinking that it might actually be the most important element in behaviour change (see this article for more).

Yes, you can add supporters to goals, and this forum exists. Still, I’d guess that Beeminding is a largely solitary affair for most people. And as unlikely as it is for one, I especially can’t picture a group of non-technical middle-aged women signing up for Beeminder to lose weight together.

I added a question mark to this point because it seems like a hard problem and I’m not sure how much top-down efforts in cultivating community can actually work. Perhaps some kind of recruitment bonus (like free premium features) could be a start.

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#2

Great thoughts! I think Beeminder has a lot of room to grow in making the service accessible to a wider audience. I think I’m pretty nerdy and I found Beeminder fairly intimidating to start with, and the fact that I’m pledging real money didn’t do anything to allay that anxiety. That barrier to entry (high complexity coupled with perceived high stakes) meant that I initially opted for StickK instead of Beeminder as my introduction to monetary commitment contracts.

I do hope, though, that we can find ways to make the service more accessible without compromising the depth, precision, and flexibility of the existing system and its UI. I think that’s possible and something worth working towards, but also probably a challenging thing to achieve.

One service that I think has really managed this is YNAB. They have a very complex product based on a quite nerdy philosophy, but somehow manage to make it accessible and friendly through a combination of design and very approachable training materials delivered in a variety of mediums (videos, articles, podcasts, and even a book [which is an excellent read, by the way]).

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#3

I agree with just about everything you wrote, so I don’t have a lot of substance to reply with.

I will say that I continue to think that goals should default to integery (so Beeminder says you need to do +3 of something instead of +2.85 of it). I think relatively few goals involve cents (if they involve money) or other floating point units (time being a special case that should be given its own UI treatment).

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#4

I agree. Luckily, I think that Beeminder’s core concept (“Do X Today Or Else”) is straightforward enough to allow for a lot of abstracting away of the details, which could easily be accessed under a hypothetical new “Advanced Settings” page.

Good idea. For time, I’d probably default to rounding to the next half-hour, or maybe 10 minutes for smaller goals. It’s not just aesthetics, it’s probably more helpful for productivity too, considering that almost all tasks have a “setup cost”, and often it takes some time to reach peak productivity. For example, I’ve got a goal of “hours of programming”, and if I end up with “0:04 minutes due today”, it’s kind of a waste of time to do that little.

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#5

What I find when I’m telling people about Beeminder is that I’m saying something like “…and you end up doing more than you expect because you don’t want to pay but in the end you might pay some money and in return you get…” and I want to finish that sentence with “all these pretty graphs and infographics” which is something that I feel would appeal to more people than “lots of stats about how well you did and how much more you’ve done than you would have done otherwise” (even though that’s all true, what you are really paying for is getting more stuff done but that’s a harder sell than pretty pictures).

Exist.io is a similarly nerd appealing self quantitive service that sends out fancy “year in review” emails and has lots of statistical correlation graphs but it looks super pretty if you show it to anyone which I think makes it easier for non-nerds to see why you might want it.

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#6

I guess in my mind the thing that makes Beeminder seem like a tool for nerd-only or semi-human robots is when it is telling you to do a fraction of a task that is literally impossible to do a fraction of. Being asked to work for a very small amount of time or, e.g. read a very small number of pages of a book seems like a related but different problem.

A feature I’ve wanted for a long time is the ability to specify a minimum “session size”, which I think would address both of these issues. For example, if you could tell Beeminder “I want to read 200 pages per week in sessions of at least 25 pages” then you’ll get cozier book time and the Beeminder UI can be smarter about how it displays things. i.e. the integery setting goes away because you can just say “I want to floss my teeth 6 days per week in sessions of at least 1 flossing”.

Then the other feature I’ve always wanted is to specify a maximum per day, so that Beeminder also can tell you that you’re “done” with the goal. As it is today, Beeminder is missing a lot of features related to cheering you on or celebrating your accomplishments, I think in large part because it cannot know which goals have unlimited potential (e.g. steps per day) and which can actually be “finished” for a day (e.g. watering a plant). (This also fixes a lot of bugs/hacks in Do Less goals where today Beeminder tries to work around not having this information, e.g. color calculation)

Yeah, it would be really cool if Beeminder generated interesting stats based on your goals!

Personally the most motivating stat I have is my month-over-month % change from my janky dashboard. I think it would be neat if Beeminder presented this kind of stuff in-app.

This site looks really cool! I suspect that it’s not for me, given the “We don’t believe in hitting fixed goals…” ideology but I might still try it out instead of wondering about it forever.

Specifically, I think the entire reason Beeminder exists and is useful is that it transforms important-but-not-urgent tasks into urgent tasks. That process feels crushingly arbitrary at times (I mean the feeling of “Ugh Beeminder why can’t you just eep tomorrow because I know it doesn’t really matter when I do this goal”), but it’s all directly controlled by your past self setting the goals. So it’s never the amount or rate that is arbitrary, only the artificial urgency.

Possibly this whole ramble is off topic. :slight_smile:

Edit: @k1rsty actually the whole thing might be a non-starter for me. I posted in their forums but let me know if you happen to know (https://forum.exist.io/t/does-data-only-come-from-integrations/332)

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#7

Wow! Really good insights with session size and “done”!

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#8

I am so down with user-definable session sizes. :heart_eyes:

My only hesitation would be… adding more settings? Of course, if you could prove that the addition of session size and max per day settings would allow for the removal of at least two other settings…

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#9

I LOVE LOVE love using beeminder since I started using it a couple months, ive made some crazy life changes, thats why I’ve been recommending it to every friend and family member I have. I try explaining it to them and how wonderful it is but without fail the #1 issue that they immediately bring up is the fact that they don’t know why they are giving “free” money to a company. Even my partner thinks its over the top and is extremely skeptical of that fact that we are willingly sending you guys our money, despite seeing the changes in me. Nevermind the fact that hes got like, 10 subcriptions to random things every month :’) hahahaa. I think its going to take a while for people to wrap their heads around the fact that they can use money for motivation…

I think emphasis should be put on the fact that you can beemind for free, until you break your first goal and after that first free derailment, make it extremely obvious that they will not be charged if it was not a legitimate derailment (and even then, you guys are so lenient depending on weasel proof settings)

Also just a minor thing that I want to mention, I’m sure it has been made clear somewhere but somehow I missed the memo that the $5 is US dollars. I’m so used to websites autoconverting the currency that I missed that fact that a derailment will cost me $7+ AUD (with paypal/bank conversion fees added on top), not $5 AUD. So if that can be made clearer to people from different countries that would also be good…

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#10

That’s so great that it’s been working so well for you! :smile:

I really think this is an indication of how necessary clear messaging and education is for this product. Beeminder’s primary value add is very unintuitive for most people. I don’t think that means we should hide what Beeminder does or try to distract people with secondary features. What I think it means is that we need to get much better at explaining how Beeminder adds value. Because it adds so much value!

A few challenges to doing that:

  • Very few people have encountered anything like this before.
  • At least for me, I often feel uncomfortable talking to people about it because at some level I’m afraid they’ll judge me for needing a tool like this.
  • It’s very easy to get sucked into using technical and insider-baseball kind of terminology when describing it.
  • It’s easy to get caught up in explaining what Beeminder is instead of what Beeminder does for the user, in real life.

But there are ways to explain it clearly; I’ve seen people articulate them on this forum. Things like, “Beeminder is an automated life coach that only charges you when you get off track and stops charging you when you’re doing great.” (Sorry to whomever I’m paraphrasing here without attribution!)

Honestly, though, how much would you pay to guarantee that you could achieve your most-important goals? I’d be willing to bet it’s orders of magnitude higher than what Beeminder is likely to charge you.

It’s that—that’s what people need to understand first: Beeminder is a service that comes as close as any service possibly could to guaranteeing you’ll achieve your most-important goals.

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#11

I think you’re right in a lot of cases… but I also think there are some people who may not be ready to Beemind yet.

The explanation of Beeminder I use that makes it seem to make sense to people is “you sign up to do something you need to do, like finish reading your comps reading list before the exam, and it breaks that down into an amount to do each day, and if you fall behind on that rate it charges you money.” In my peer group of graduate students the benefit is pretty clear: it charges you money (an experience desperately to be avoided!!) right away if you are falling behind on a long-term goal. If there’s money on the line the task will definitely get done: powerful!!

The sticking point I hear, then, is some variation of ‘I actually don’t believe in my ability to complete this goal so strongly that I’d bet money on it.’ I find this a pretty frustrating response – I don’t see how it’s a viable plan, to knowingly not do enough work?? They asked me why I am able to complete projects through gradual effort ahead of time, instead of bingeing miserably right before deadlines, and this is why! – but it’s the reason nobody else in my cohort has even been interested in trying Beeminder.

The comparison to YNAB is really helpful here, actually, I bet, because so much of YNAB’s onboarding actually isn’t about learning how to use their technical features, but addressing the emotional and psychological blocks which have made their users bad at budgeting in the past. With both YNAB and Beeminder there’s a strong component of ‘okay, you’ve been muddling by kind of lying to yourself, but avoiding bad news makes it impossible to do anything about it.’ If it’s impossible to read the entire comps list before the exam, find that out now and acknowledge it and make a new plan that is realistic. Getting people into that Beeminder mindset is just as important, I think, as having an approachable UI – and more important, maybe, than articulating the value Beeminder adds (since ‘accomplishing your own goals’ is a pretty big value-add!)

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#12

This really resonates a lot with me, as I think it was a reason I went with StickK before going with Beeminder. The fact that Beeminder uses open-ended, escalating commitment contracts makes it much more intimidating than a StickK-style limited-duration, set-in-stone commitment, even though Beeminder’s akraisa horizon makes Beeminder commitments way more flexible than StickK commitments.

If I were to try to summarize the stages I went through to get to where I am now, it might look something like this:

  1. Disgust: Why should I give a company permission to charge me more and more money?
  2. Overwhelm: This service is super complicated. I think I’ll use StickK.
  3. Education: Being able to change your commitments is super valuable… etc, etc.
  4. Disillusion: I derailed. I’m a failure. Dial back all the goals!
  5. Epiphany: Bright-line pledges means the choice to derail isn’t a failure. It’s an informed calculation.
  6. Opportunity: This tool lets me choose my life’s course. That opens up so much possibility.

Reality was a lot messier, but all those things happened, in more-or-less that order. I’d be super interested to hear how my path compares to other people’s experiences getting into Beeminder.

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#13

Executive dysfunction is common in autistic or ADHD people. That is a huge untapped client base for Beeminder.

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#14

I went through similar stages except somehow I managed to skip steps 1 and 2. I think I skipped 1 because I was already in the right mindset (specifically looking for productivity apps/tools), and maybe I skipped 2 because as a programmer I have an increased tolerance for staring at complicated things without running away until I understand them.

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#15

Yeah, this is what I hear too, specifically “I could never do that - I would lose so much money.”

And I have noticed this trend in myself, as in avoiding adding goals I really need to beemind because I’m afraid I won’t do them.

It does take a certain amount of bravery to do this and you have to work up to it until you get to the point where you can boldly add goals knowing it will be worth it.

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#16

Who says it’s a viable plan?

#17

I’m not sure I understand this - like, last night I did a major derailment, not by choice, just by akrasia.

#18

Sure, it depends how you define choice, but I guess I see even akratic behaviors as being choices in some sense. When you eat that piece of chocolate cake, your neurons are making the choice to allow immediate pleasure to outweigh future consequences. Situation led to multiple options led to decision, even if it wasn’t your rational brain in the driver’s seat.

Beeminder allows me to have an influence on how my irrational brain makes that choice by bringing some of that future consequence and making it immediate, thus improving the quality of the calculation.

It’s like in business where a company starts ignoring negative externalities. One of the ways to compensate for that, improving the quality of decisions that are made in a free market, is to introduce a tax that accounts for the negative externality. All of the sudden companies and consumers start taking something into account that they weren’t taking into account before the tax was added, even if the consumer is only explicitly thinking about price and not about the externality that the price now reflects.

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#19

That’s a great analogy.
I’m just not sure how “informed” the calculation or choice is - I think sometimes it takes a few derailments for it to really sink in.

#20

Right, and I have a feeling this may vary from person to person, as people may have different relationships with money and losing it. I would imagine, though, that Beeminder’s automatic escalation of stakes would tend to smooth out some of these differences between users in the long run.