Quantifying Relationships (Dish Out)

Hi everyone!

I mentioned Dish Out in my introduction post and I am very happy to have found this forum to share this project, learning and thought-process. I feel very small compared to the knowledge gathered on QS.com but I think my experience is still worth sharing.

The initial idea

Initially, the idea was to create a todo list mobile application for couples that would gamify chores around 12 categories (Household, Vehicles, Going Out, Shopping, Groceries, Intimacy, etc.) with a system of points and badges (based on tasks difficulty, motivation and completion deadline), and also with virtual gifts that couples could send to each other when completing tasks. In my mind, I had this Stats/Dashboards section on the app where couple would be able to see their performance on each category to compare who’s doing what in the house and get challenged on this mini leaderboard format.

If you want to know more about how we started, we’ve done a Slideshare presentation here.

Our idea was to create a product that would improve couples’ performance at doing chores and ultimately improve the relationship happiness. Big challenge!

Progressively, the relationship between performance and happiness appeared to be much more complex than what we thought and some findings made us pivot the product core concept. I’ll come back to this in further down.

Discovering Quantified Self

I started doing some research and discovered the notion of ‘Quantified Self’ which I was intuitively familiar with without knowing it had a name and was a movement with thought-leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs, events, etc. We saw it as an opportunity and started drawing some parallels and extend the concept to ‘Quantified Relationships’. We wrote a blog post about this here where we started listing down real life inputs that we would need to capture and translate digitally in order to quantify relationships:

• Material affection: gifts, messages given/received.
• Physical affection: kisses, cuddles, sexual relationship frequency.
• Verbal affection: Number of times you say I love you, thank you.
• Interactions: service, favour, time spent in specific activity for the other person

What we then did is to run a survey amongst 500 couples to validate a few hypothesis and get some feedback. We realized a few things:

  • Unbalance in a couple regarding chores doesn’t necessarily translate into less happiness. For instance, in some scenarios where someone does most of the chores provide, high ratings can be observed in terms of relationship happiness
  • Additionally, there are things that couples don’t want to improve. Imperfection is an important component of a relationship, and trying to scientifically fix these may lead to some user needs gaps
  • There’s some lack of affection (material and immaterial) that couples mentioned which are something that they would like to see improvements on
  • Couples are interested in getting more things done together
  • Couples tend to be happier when each person specializes in a chore category and is independent running chores.

But the most important thing we discovered is that every couple is unique and we needed to be open-minded in our product philosophy. Some couples may use Dish Out to improve on daily chores (buy the milk), others on specific tasks (plan holidays) and other on ‘greater’ challenges (lose 10kg by May).

We realized that we had to pivot and move the concept to something open-ended, reciprocal and less restricted. As an extent, our marketing and messaging has to evolve accordingly.

Beta Test

As a result, we’ve tweaked the initial concept and are developing a simplified beta version that will give 3 options to couples:

  • If I do that, what will you do in return for me?
  • If you do that, what do you want me to do in return?
  • If you do that, I will do that, deal?

From a product development perspective, we’re doing small steps. I feel it’s easy to get QS wrong or fall in love with certain ideas or features. We’re seeing QS as a meta-feature, something that goes underneath real users needs. There’s a lot of things we have in mind to extend the experience and capture inputs, we’re thinking of sensors, wearable for couples.

I’ll keep you posted here, I understand QS is a very complex and broad discussion so I thank in advance for your feedback, comments and interest.

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Hello Etienne, it’s great to see you in the forum, and I think your open minded approach is a good one. I notice in reading your description some major assumptions about the dynamics of relationships. The dominant one in your beta is that relationships function well when there is transactional parity. The questions of whether relationships are in fact transactional; and, if they are, whether parity is their principal value, will both be tested in your beta. Let us know your results!

Hi Gary,

It’s a great point you have raised here, thank you! You’ve rightly spotted that we’re working with important assumptions and it’s great to read feedback.

I’m kind of thinking out loud here, but I t think that the strongest relationships are transactional & transformational; and Dish Out targets those established couples that have or believe in this progressive dynamics (hence also the QS dimension we need to bring).

Transactional because I see most relationships starting and motivated by personal interest. I’d me more interested to start seeing someone if this person brings me something, be it an emotional, material or physical uplift. Then I think that cohabitation also finds its foundation in a natural ‘division of labor’: “I cook > You wash the dishes”, “I pick the color of the bed sheets > you pick the television model”, etc. Our study has actually shown that propensity of couples to specialize is a positive thing and creates more performance overall.

Transformational then. And not all the couples manage to reach this second stage in their relationship, the one where people start to do things to improve themselves, the other person and the couple as a unit. For instance, I’m kind of glad to see that I’m a way better person today than 7 years ago before I met my girlfriend, and I think she would say the same. And this is one of the reason that we pivoted the product and communication strategy to allow people to create challenges as opposed to chores.

Now the point about ‘parity’ is excellent and I think there’s a huge topic here that we need to understand better and measure before going with the final product. When we started Dish Out, our stand was that parity was the principal value: Even though it’s a relative notion between couples, we believed (and still believe) that people are keeping a mental score card consciously or unconsciously in their mind. And when couples walk away from their parity zone (when one starts becoming lazy or the other one starts to be over productive), it creates unbalance. And we believe Dish Out can play a role here through either compelling or reciprocal transactions (chores) or transformations (challenges).

But there’s other parameters that are used as adjustments factors: sex, signs of affection and affection, which bring an additional layer of complexity.

What do you think Gary? Do you think parity is the principal value? Or what would be your approach here? We’ve got a good base of couples we can survey, but it’s kind of hard to find the right questions…


I think parity is indeed a value, and feelings of unfairness can threaten relationships in both trivial and fundamental ways. While feelings of unfairness can attach themselves to specific areas like cleaning up, I’d be interested to find out whether actual measurable performance of specified tasks actually addresses these issues meaningfully. I think it could, at least by providing an object of reflection/discussion. But it may have the opposite effect, and such effects are likely to vary quite a bit between different people. Just some initial thoughts…

Hi Gary,

I’ve allowed myself to quote you from this discussion for a blog post on our Blog!

We’ve started recruiting beta testers, is there any communication channels apart from the forum within QS that I could use to find more testers?

Looking forward to see results and share with you soon. I’m now very keen to see how couples complement each other through the different categories at play and if there is parity in terms of difficulty or motivation for the ‘vows’ they’ll exchanged…