By using ubiquitous communication tools like e-mail and text messaging to interact with Sandy, says Dornfest, users can get organized without stopping to think too hard about it. “A lot of the things Sandy takes down would never have made it into a calendar in your lifetime–it’s just too painful,” he says. “Most organizational systems break your flow. They try to make you do something else for a moment, and then you can go back to whatever you were doing in the first place.”
Another new program, reQall–developed by QTech, based in Hyderabad, India–pushes that idea even further by giving users a toll-free number they can call and leave messages at. Whatever your favorite communication medium–e-mail, Web, text messaging, or phone–odds are that reQall can parse it. Voice-recognition software, live human transcriptionists, and natural-language processing algorithms read your messages and use them to generate reminders that can be delivered by e-mail, text messages, or voice calls, customized for the user.
“If I say, ‘Remember to buy a watermelon tomorrow,’ I won’t see it today,” says QTech founder Sunil Vemuri, who got the idea for the program while a PhD student researching memory at MIT’s Media Lab. “The system will interpret the sentence and put it in the right place. It removes some of the cognitive burdens of trying to get the idea out and organize it.”
Neither Presdo, IWantSandy, nor reQall has an obvious business model. Their creators are contemplating charging fees for premium accounts in the future, but for now, all three applications are free of charge.
The sudden popularity of organizers that are just a text message away may be part of a larger trend. For two decades, software has been dominated by graphical user interfaces, which employ visual features like windows and icons to convey information. But clearly, Google isn’t the only company that’s banking on text entry. The command line is making a comeback–and increasingly, natural-language processing is bringing the ease and simplicity of text-based computing to the non-tech-savvy.
“There are going to be more and more applications which are less monolithic screens, and more dashing off quick missives,” says Dornfest. “We’ve just begun to scratch the surface here.”