Playful Web site helps you make decisions
By Rachel Metz
NEW YORK — I’m sick of spending so much time making decisions, like what to eat for lunch or where to go on a date. So lately I’ve been outsourcing the process to a free new Web service that is happy to do it for me.
Hunch, which was co-founded by one of the people who launched the popular photo-sharing service Flickr, helps you make thousands of decisions ranging from "Am I drunk right now?" to "Which Zelda game should I play?" Hunch asks you several multiple-choice questions to help it hone in on the best advice.
The breadth of topics on the site is pretty limited. The Hunch team seeded it with 500 topics, and users added about 2,000 during a private beta test over the past few months. With this week’s launch, users will now add most of the topics.
Hunch is willing to help navigate tricky situations like determining whether you’re adopted or deciding if you’re ready to get a dog, but I’d be wary of using it as more than a sounding board for serious decisions. Instead I had fun using it for determining what color to paint my nails (yellow) or which vampire movie I should watch (a 2008 Swedish flick called "Let the Right One In").
Perhaps because Hunch seems so dispassionate and reasoned in its conclusions, it spurred me to do things I’ve been putting off.
I started by creating my own profile, and telling Hunch about me by answering questions such as which TV shows I find funny, what color my eyes are and whether I know any magic tricks. You can use Hunch without going through this, but the profile can help the site learn about you and give better suggestions.
I asked Hunch to help with fashion and hairstyle issues that I haven’t been able to figure out on my own.
First up: Which sandals should I get for the summer?
The site asked how much I wanted to spend, what heel height I prefer and whether I sought a dressy, casual or formal pair. Then it settled on a few suggestions, including a flat, simple, gladiator-style Sam Edelman pair that I really liked.
I clicked a link to check out the sandals on Zappos.com. Hunch makes money this way — it would get a cut from Zappos if I bought the footwear. I decided not to shell out nearly $80 for such a piddly amount of leather and sole, but a bright orange pair was seriously tempting.
Hunch also figured into my attempt to get out of a lunch rut of solely pizza or turkey sandwiches. Perhaps it could steer me to something I was too lazy to visualize.
After questions like "are you in the mood for something healthy or indulgent/comforting?" and "are you eating alone?", Hunch decided I really did want to keep eating pizza. (It also recommended pizza for a co-worker unenthused about the sandwich he had made.)
An extended list showing all the possible suggestions is linked to each Hunch result. It’s initially sorted by the site’s presumption of what would be most relevant, though you can also view the list by popularity — based on the number of other users who say they like the suggestion.
For the lunch query, Hunch presented 18 suggestions, with peanut butter and jelly near the top. Enticing, but I figured I’d go with pizza so I could use Hunch to make another decision: What topping do I want?
Hunch suggested arugula, but that tastes like lawn clippings to me. Another suggestion, bell peppers, was more appealing, and I was contentedly munching on the slice a little while later.
Because there are plenty of things I know I should do but just don’t want to, I used Hunch to motivate myself. The other day, I asked whether I should go running. I’ve tried (and failed) to persuade myself to hit the pavement by keeping all the running necessities in a drawer right next to my desk, so I was skeptical that turning over my exercising free will to Hunch would work.
It asked me about factors like the weather and the number of days since my last run before concluding that yes, I should lace up my sneakers. I spent the next 35 minutes cursing the site under my breath. Hunch apparently didn’t know how out of shape I was.
Fortunately, if you’re not happy with the suggestions on Hunch, you can help improve it — by adding your own or editing already published topics after you’ve "played" at least five topics. Once you create a new topic, other Hunch users can vote on how good or complete it is, and anyone can add questions and results to it. Hunch’s staff reviews the submissions before adding them to the library.
For now, though, Hunch’s helpfulness is somewhat limited.
I wanted advice on how I should cut my increasingly unruly hair, and the first suggestion was a straight style with long, straight bangs. This would have me looking like a glasses-wearing poodle. The other suggestions — a shag cut, or a bob, like actress Katie Holmes — didn’t impress me either.
Another time the site was more than 50 percent sure I should leave work early and grab a beer. This sounded like a genius idea, but since I couldn’t find advice on dealing with an angry boss, I stuck around.