Wishing Well (for Personalized Communication)

Bill Gates recently commented in an interview with Jon Udell yesterday,

“And there’s a lot more issues to be solved than RSS… Ultimately the whole problem of notification, of what is it should I be paying attention to next? Is it the e-mail that came in? The phone call? The bid we’re supposed to make? That’s actually a very deep user interface problem, you know, having all these things understand your context and their priority and who’s saying that they think something is urgent. And then you just go to your computer screen and it’s ranked for you. You know — first pay attention to this, then pay attention to this.

That’s the holy grail that these technologies are in service of, is that the thing where you always had to go find things, now the system is being a bit smarter for you in terms of now you’re not polling the world.”

Greg Linden, the Founder/CEO of Findory comments further:

“We need help with information overload. We need a smart system that helps us focus on the information that matters. We need personalized information streams where our attention is directed toward the most interesting and important.”

I couldn’t agree more with Greg’s assessment of information overload. Determining the relative ranking of pieces in the Incremental Web which I should read is becoming increasingly difficult, if not near-impossible. Should I read this post, scan through that delicious tag feed, or view this photo-stream? Findory’s service does a great job of personalizing news content like this, but it’s only a first step.

I believe that Gates is referring to something even more powerful, “a very deep user interface problem,” as he calls it. Is it possible for technology to eventually not only to determine a relative ranking among a specific set of information, but also determine an absolute ranking among many sets of information? Ideally, I want to not only know the most important news that I should read, but also have my computer (read: personal device) determine if, how, and when I should read an article, accept a Skype call, or listen to a voicemail – all depending on the meta-data known about that particular communication. A tall order, I know, but something I wish for in a chaos of information available today. Personalization technology, tagging, and social network/connection data are helping us get there, but it’s going to take some time.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.