GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

September 16, 2005

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.

  • http://www.mentations.com Brian Schneeberg

    Well David, call me crazy, but this is exactly the type of problem that we are trying to solve at Grimaldi Productions. Of course, it sure would be easier with a little VC (or angel) seed money! ;^) Check out http://www.mentations.com for more info and to download an early beta if you so desire.

  • Megan Kamil

    Bill Gates is right on it. For billing professionals it’s actually a very big deal – they can waste hours trying to figure out what they should, and should not be doing rather than being more productive.

  • http://dannyayers.com Danny

    Yes, yes indeed. But the general problem is somewhat more difficult than Gates or Linden suggest. The end-user is far more than a passive receiver of information, they are a participant in the creation of information.

    Fortunately there are techniques already available to cover most of the problem – Semantic Web technologies can model the complex social/info space, there are old AI-style machine learning algorithms which can do things like cluster or prioritise. But there’s still a lot of Web-wiring to do before quality personal knowledge managers become a reality.

  • Megan Kamil

    Danny,

    I’m not sure about the Semntic Web technologies – haven’t used them, but last Friday I was speaking to a buyer about an attempt by an entrepreneur in the space to implement a good learning system. The buyer’s conclusion was that it didn’t work well b/c it was not specific/detailed enough. Grouping does not mean that what is most important comes first, it only means related items are put together but no order exists w/in the group.

    Maybe it depends on the industry though.

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