Nobody likes to make difficult decisions. And while the web has offered outlets for advice for years, ranging from forums to sites like Yahoo Answers, these are prone to flame wars and grossly incorrect information. Now, some new startups are emerging that are looking to take the community element – or at least the flamewars associated with it – out of the equation. Today sees the launch of LetSimonDecide, a new site that looks to help make decisions easier across a variety of topics, ranging from picking a college major to determining if you should buy or sell your stock.
The obvious competitor here is Hunch the new startup from Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake. And while there are some definite similarities – both startups revolve around decision making – they’re taking very different approaches.
While it is powered by complex algorithms, Hunch’s data comes primarily from the community – you essentially vote on each portion of the decision process to determine how it should impact subsequent users. This means that you’re exposed to new options that you might not have previously been aware of, but it also means that you’ll occasionally get a suggestion that you’d never consider as a viable option. Conversely, Simon is more about helping figure out what’s important to you, and then basing a decision off that. In a way, it’s like an enhanced version of the traditional Pro/Con lists people make when they’re trying to make a decision.
It sounds a bit odd at first, so I’ll try to demonstrate how it works with an example. After logging into Simon, I was prompted to build a personal profile, which asked for some of my overarching life goals (these include moving to England and writing a book, for those who are curious). It also asked a handful of other questions, like my favorite activities and my personality type (there’s a choice from a half dozen categories).
From there, I tried using the site to help me with a decision. The first one I tried was to help me pick a college major – a decision I grappled with years ago that I figured might be a common choice for newcomers to the site. The site first asked me for the options I was considering (Political Science and Biology), and then which attributes about each should factor into my decision (I chose ‘Is It Interesting?’, ‘Work Load’, and ‘Job Potential’). The site then asked me to rate each major in terms of these three attributes, and how each would affect my quest to achieve my life goals. Based on my input, it spat out an answer (Biology).
So rather than look at data input by the community, Simon used data I had previously entered to help make my decision. Because there isn’t a large database of existing questions and responses it feels a little too basic at first – it’s effectively just presenting you with questions that you wrote for yourself. At the same time, I can see why it could be useful. It forces you to figure out exactly what’s important to you, and helps you make your decision accordingly.
And in the end, that’s really the best these services can do. For any genuinely important decision, you probably don’t want to rely on the wisdom of the crowds to land on your ultimate verdict – the average answer isn’t always the best one for all of us. So Simon holds your hand and helps you come to your own conclusions. It’s better than the old fashioned Pro/Con list, but it may still have a hard time attracting many users – unlike Hunch, it isn’t all that fun.
LetSimonDecide is the newest product from Ayax Systems, a consumer research company. Rather than include advertising on the site, Ayax is planning to use aggregate anonymized data to generate reports, which it can then sell to universities and Think-tanks.