Beeminder Forum

Why Beeminder likes cumulative graphs

Grayson Bray Morris, novelist and StickK-to-Beeminder convert, has a wonderful blog post – Baby Got Bonus – that describes beautifully the psychological value of Beeminder’s cumulative graphs. You don’t even have to read it; just take a look at the two illustrations she drew and the point will immediately be clear!

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I know @grayson already blogged this but it’s so good, especially with the adorable illustrations, that I think it should be repeated as a Beeminder blog post. Ideally we’d convince @grayson to do that as a guest post but we could also do our own version and point to the original.

I’m mainly saying this as an excuse to tag this #blog so we can search the forum for blog post ideas in the future and have this come up.

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I loved these two graphs. I think they should be added to FAQ or newbies area. This short post, in my opinion, is simple and concise. I love it.
I would also love to see similar explanations for each goal type.

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Does the Baby Got Bonus rationale really apply to Do Less goals? I don’t think so.

In a Do Less goal, the cumulative view only lets me see how much less I’ve done, cumulatively, compared to my goal over the time I’ve been beeminding. That’s in contrast with Do More goals, where the cumulative goal shows me how much more I’ve done cumulatively compared to 0.

If beeminder is helping, my cumulative gain over my goal should tend to be close to 0, which isn’t very encouraging. I would like to still feel good about every less time I’ve checked my phone!

One ideal feature to add if this basic paradigm is preserved is to contrast the yellow brick road (is it still called that?) with a “baseline projection”, so the accumulated progress would remain visible.

Alternatively, I’d urge beeminder to consider using daily rather than cumulative graphs for Do Less goals.

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Thanks for bringing this up! It’s not crazy and I like how you’re thinking. I need to think harder about whether I agree. Doing do-less as non-cumulative graphs would be a big change and needs a proper spec or at least some sketches of how the graphs would look and how they’d change from one day to the next, how you can visualize imminent derailment, etc.

For now at least, we’re still talking about “following the yellow brick road” even though it’s really “stay on this side of the bright line”. More discussion on that:

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I’m a little confused - can’t the user make any graph cumulative or non-cumulative just by checking the option?

I tend to agree that cumulative graphs should only be used under the very limited circumstance where something is actually accumulating, like “total work done.” That’s going to be highly variable depending on what you’re actually beeminding.

Some Do More goals should be cumulative and some shouldn’t, and same for any other type of goal. I see the cumulative setting as something the user should carefully think through depending on how the goal is defined.

Agreed! Can’t you just turn cumulative off?

Why would it be a big change when there’s already a setting to turn it off? What am I missing?

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Fair question! It’s that in current Beeminder it only makes sense to turn off auto-summing if your data comes pre-summed. Like if you’re beeminding pages read then you can either tell Beeminder how many pages you read each day and let it auto-sum those to show the cumulative graph, or you can generate the cumulative graph directly by entering the page number you’re on each day. Either way it’s a cumulative graph!

You can shoe-horn it and make anything non-cumulative but it’s not recommended and will cause more problems and surprises than it solves.

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Ah! I had no idea that this was a setting available in custom goals (I’m on Infinibee so I don’t have access to custom goals). Thanks for pointing it out!

I’ll take dreev’s advice for now and stay away, but very good to know about.

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