Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review of Sandy (iwantsandy.com), an Online Personal Assistant, for Medicine and Getting Things Done (GTD)

Okay, let's say you already have a calendar, a to-do list (or perhaps multiple to-do lists organized by context), and a watch with an alarm -- why might you want to use Sandy (www.iwantsandy.com), a new online personal assistant?

Sandy's goal is to replace all those other life-organizing technologies. And while there are plenty of imperfections, she/it does the job remarkably well. And for free.

Here are some illustrations to show you how it works. Let's say you need to take a medication twice daily, at 9 am and 5 pm. One option is to put it on your calender with an alarm, or set your watch alarm to 9 am to 5 pm, or put it on a daily to-do list.

Alternatively, you could email Sandy the following:
remind me to take medication at 9am @daily
remind me to take medication at 5pm @daily
[experienced users could shorten this to "r take medication 5pm @daily"]
Every day, at 9 am and 5 pm, Sandy would then text message your mobile phone and/or email you to remind you to take your medication. (Initially, Sandy sends you a confirmation email with an ical attachment so the reminder could also be imported into most calendar programs.)

Another example. Let's say you're a physician, and John Smith is having a chest xray that you'd like to follow up on tomorrow. No problem. Email Sandy, "remind me to check JS cxr tomorrow at noon", and you're done. (Of course, remember to be careful about HIPAA privacy issues.)

And what if Sandy contacts you tomorrow at noon but you're too busy to check the xray at that time? Simply reply to her email with "snooze two hours" and she'll contact you again two hours later.

Sandy can also understand your voice by integrating with Jott.com, a service which converts spoken words to email. Let's say you're on your mobile phone and a colleague tells you about a meeting you have to attend tomorrow at 3pm. You're walking quickly and don't want to slow down, so you call Jott's toll-free number and have this conversation:
"Who do you want to Jott?"
"Sandy"
"Sandy. Is that correct?"
"Yes."
BEEP.
"Remind me about meeting tomorrow at 3pm."
And that's it. Sandy/Jott will email you a confirmation to ensure that they've heard you correctly (which in my experience, is practically 100% of the time), and then tomorrow before 3pm, you'll receive a text message reminding you about the meeting.

Sandy is also aimed at fans of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology, as reminders can be extensively tagged by context. For example, if you needed to shop for a book for your friend Lucy's birthday either on Amazon.com or in a bookstore, you could email Sandy, "remind me to buy book for Lucy @todo @amazon @errand @bookstore @computer".

If you happen to be on Amazon.com, you could email Sandy, "lookup amazon", and she'll remind you about everything that you might want to purchase on Amazon, including Lucy's book.

Many online systems for GTD already exist. What makes Sandy interesting is that it has the potential, more than the others, to integrate a web interface, email, voice, calendars, and to do lists with a sophisticated reminder and tagging system that understands conversational English.

Currently, my to-do lists are either notes on the iPhone's notepad (@outside, @hospital) or are online in Gmail. (I use customized labels and filters in Gmail -- @office, @priority1, @timehigh, @toreply, etc. -- to organize both my emails and to-do lists. For more information on using Gmail to organize to-do lists, see here.)

Sandy is great for sending yourself reminders on-the-fly, but I'm not yet ready to use the service to manage my to-do lists. Compared with Gmail -- or with lists you create in a notepad or in a word processor -- Sandy is much slower and clunkier. The web interface, in particular, makes tagging and searching for multiple tags cumbersome. As far as I can tell, for example, you can't easily search for "@office @timehigh @priority1". Even so, I'm amazed by how well Sandy works for reminders, and I fully expect the web interface will improve with time.

Try it for yourself. It's a great product, and Sandy has the potential to become the most popular organizational system on the web.

1 comment:

quinthar said...

This is pretty cool! I just made a similar, email-only gateway that does much the thing -- a sort of email version of the "43 Folders" technique for organizing future tasks.

Basically, email a reminder to yourself at "tomorrow@3mindme.com" or "jan5th@3mindme.com" or "nexttuesday@3mindme.com" and it'll forward whatever you sent back to you at the specified time. Visit www.3mindme.com or just email help@3mindme.com for more information. Anyway, I *just* made it and I'm looking for feedback on how to make it more helpful, and I'd welcome any advice you have. Write me at dbarrett@quinthar.com; I look forward to hearing from you!

-david