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Can a Website Help You Decide to Have a Kid?

A startup called Cloverpop wants to help you make life’s pivotal decisions.
September 9, 2014

We already turn to the Internet for help making countless little decisions like where to go out to dinner or what movie to watch. Now one startup thinks the Web can help you work out life’s biggest decisions, too—like whether or not to get married, go back to school, buy a house, or have a child.

Cloverpop launched a public beta test of its website on Tuesday that anyone can access for free, and anonymously. Previously, in a private beta test, the site had about 2,500 users who asked 1,100 unique questions, the most popular of which concerned jobs, moving, school, and relationships, founder and CEO Erik Larson says.

It takes about 10 minutes to use the site to help you make a decision. You must answer a series of questions about how experienced you are with the topic at hand, the ways in which a “yes” answer will most impact your life, and potential alternative decisions, in order to arrive at a “yes” or a “no.” You also must write a statement about how you imagine you’ll feel, having made the decision either way, in a year.

When I asked the question “Should I buy a house?” Cloverpop asked me to suggest and rank other options (I typed “stay in my apartment,” “get a cheaper apartment, and save up for a house,” and “buy a house with a rental unit”). The site then took my top alternative choice (“stay in my apartment”) and asked me to determine how the life factors I’d ranked as most important to me—like money, immediate family, and community—would change for better or worse depending on the choice I made. 

After analyzing your priorities and answers, Cloverpop issues a “yes” or “no” response to your initial question along with three types of scores: a Cloverpop meter, which shows the site’s confidence with its answer to your question; a gut meter, which indicates how much you can trust your instincts to guide you, given your experience; and a trade-off meter, which shows how much the “yes” or “no” decision conflicts with your priorities.

The site expects to make money by matching some users with experts who can help them with the decisions, such as life coaches.

Michael Kearns, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Warren Center for Network and Data Sciences, says the unavoidable delay between receiving advice and knowing whether it was any good could be problematic for Cloverpop. “When even the user doesn’t know if you’ve given them the right answer until many many months or even years later, this is bad,” says Kearns, who was also an investor in and advisor to decision-making website Hunch (which was acquired by eBay and subsequently shuttered).

Larson knows Cloverpop needs a lot more data to make more complicated analyses. But he thinks that over time it could offer much more specific insights to help people make more personalized decisions. Eventually it may be able to describe for you the experiences of people who are similar to you and grappled with a similar decision.

It may sound silly to trust a website to help you make a huge decision like switching career paths or moving to a new state, but Larson says Cloverpop isn’t really telling you what you should do. In fact, he claims that about half the people using the site are already pretty sure what their decision is but simply want validation for it.

“The whole idea is to help you see your decision more clearly, so that when you make the decision it’s well-aligned with what’s important and meaningful to you,” he says.

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