Web services that work

20 November 2007

Remember years ago, that neat service that got a lot of press, Wildfire? It was one of those services that you could call, and it did voice recognition — a woman’s voice responded, and she was your personal assistant. But it was expensive and complicated, and the company went for enterprise-level. On the other hand, enter Jott. Free (at least for now) service that you can call — it transcribes and then forwards your voice messages to anyone else’s email or SMS. Now, that’s just dandy, and I probably wouldn’t use it just for that…I’m rarely away from my email for so long that I can’t wait to get someone a message, and if it’s that important, I’ll just call.

But now imagine if that service could send your messages not to other humans, but to other SERVICES. That’s where IWantSandy comes in. Sandy is your personal assistant, and to get her to do stuff or remember stuff, you just send her an email, or even cc: her on an email to someone else. Any date/time/event/contact information is extracted from the email, and added to your Sandy repository. Which is fine and dandy, except I already use iCal. Well. Sandy also syndicates your Sandy calendar, so you can subscribe to it in iCal, and then the events in your Sandy calendar show up as events in your everyday calendar — even syncing to your iPod or iPhone or other PDA that speaks iCal.

The other day, I had Sandy remember stuff about Thanksgiving. I even told her what I was going to need from the grocery store. Now, when I get to the store, I can drop Sandy a quick note (or call her through Jott) asking her for my grocery list, and she’ll email my grocery list to my phone.

When I started using these services, I wanted to dive in and figure out how they work, so that I could tweak them to within an inch of their lives. I started reading the developer API doc. Then Sandy sent me a reminder about an upcoming event, and I stopped reading. I have a basic enough understanding of how it works. But what’s more important is THAT it works. As Ben Schneiderman said at World Usability Day New England 2007, it’s not about what computers can do, it’s about what you can do with computers.

I was telling a colleague about these services this morning. He thought the confluence of these services was pretty cool, and then he asked if any of our ‘clients’ had been asking for this kind of support. I explained that, no, these are bleeding-edge kinds of uses, and only the earliest of adopters would be using them — and those folks can generally support themselves. But what if we set up Jott/Sandy accounts FOR them, and just told them how to use the services? Not how they work, not the ins and outs, just, “Call this number, say these things, and then in five minutes, sync your iPod, and it’ll show up.” We could even create our own wrapper around the services, so as to not make them scary and intimidating or disjointed, or even make them not seem Web 2.0 (which some folks DO find scary). Just, hey, here’s a cool thing. Call, wait, sync. Period.

I’m going to have to play with these some more.


One comment

  1. I keep going back to the old washer and dryer philosophy of technology. I’m one of those users who wants to buy it, plug it in, dial it up, and bingo. The market for geek consultants to get us “up and running” is throbbing with opportunity. Go for it.

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