Apps & Software

Is Cue the Cure for Information Overload?


Is Cue the Cure for Information Overload?

Photograph by Photographer: Landon Nordeman/Redux

Here’s an amazing statistic: The average person receives 63,000 words of new information every day. That’s about the length of a novel. The cascade comes in the form of e-mails, tweets, Facebook (FB) updates, and a zillion further ways we consume data these days. “If you had this crazy idea and wanted to read everything you got in 2011,” says Robby Walker, who calculated the words-per-day statistic, “it would take you the first three months of 2012.”

Walker is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Greplin, which in 2011 built an iPhone app to help people make sense of this morass. Users could connect the app to their e-mail and social-media accounts, and Greplin provided one search box to rule them all. You’d never have to remember whether that birthday party invitation came via e-mail or a Facebook message or a Google (GOOG) Calendar invite—just Greplin it.

Starting today, Greplin has a new, more accessible name—Cue—and an ambitious update to its app that works much harder at saving those drowning in information. The vision of Walker and co-founder Daniel Gross is for Cue to be the first thing you check in the morning and the app you return to throughout the day to “find out what’s next,” as the tagline puts it.

The search function is still there, but the highlight of the new app is a calendar. For each entry, Cue sorts through all the services you’ve given it access to—it can connect to 26, including the usual e-mail and social-media sites, as well as business applications such as Salesforce (CRM) and Yammer—to find related information. If you’re meeting with a new client, for instance, Cue will try to find the contact’s latest tweets and Facebook updates. If you planned the meeting via e-mail, it’ll find that e-mail and extract phone numbers, addresses, and other essential info. The idea is that if you’re running behind schedule, you can pull up Cue to instantly see where you need to be next, whom to call to let them know you’ll be late, and catch up on the other person’s latest Facebook photos, so you can have something intelligent to talk about once you get there.

This is a big move toward passive computing, the idea that we shouldn’t have to search through or meticulously organize our machines (or, God forbid, memorize information). Instead, our devices should intuit our needs and present the right information at the right time. The new name is meant to evoke this idea—the app is like an actor’s cue card—though Walker doesn’t mind that it also evokes Q, James Bond’s gadget guy. I suggest that they should have called it Robin instead, to tie in with the latest Batman movie. “If we’d gone the Batman route, we liked Alfred,” says Walker. “He’s the guy behind the scenes, greasing the wheels, while Batman is kicking ass.”

Cue should get smarter over time. Already, it can recognize certain e-mails—such as flight reservations, movie-ticket confirmations, package deliveries—and automatically add those events to your calendar. Eventually, the founders say, there will be a way to act on those events; you could cancel or change a flight, for instance. The startup makes money with a freemium model: It’s free to link up your Facebook account, but business services such as Salesforce require a monthly fee. An iPad (AAPL) app is in the works, and the founders plan to be on Android and Windows (MSFT) phones as well.

Walker wants the app to become good enough that it’ll know how to respond when you tell it, “Give me the guy I met last week with long hair.” I joke that they’ll have to start using phone mics to record conversations, so those can be indexed and searched as well. Gross looks at me seriously. “This is something we’re going to have to do in the future,” he says. When he realizes I’m joking, and that the idea might be creepy to some of those who live outside the Silicon Valley bubble, he edits himself. “We’re not working on this now,” he says. “But it has to be in our future.”

Sheridan_1901
Sheridan is a senior editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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