Noteleaf Seeks to Sync Up Online Calendars, Contacts, For Meeting Prep On-The-Go

3/22/11Follow @wroush

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that Simon is the person you’re meeting with, but which Simon it might be, based on the people in your Gmail and LinkedIn contact lists.

Most of the time it works great, but like any machine learning system, Noteleaf deals in probabilities, which means sometimes it makes mistakes. In fact, while testing the service before writing this article, I provoked Noteleaf into an unintentionally hilarious one. I created a meeting in Google Calendar called “Fake meeting with Jake Klamka.” When the text message for the fake meeting arrived, it contained a link to a profile for Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr and Hunch.

What might have thrown Noteleaf off—to the point that it didn’t recognize the name of its own co-creator—was the fact I’ve exchanged many e-mails with Caterina and am connected with her on LinkedIn, whereas I had just met Klamka. And it didn’t help that one of the people in my contact list has a last name that’s also a common word. “One of our biggest challenges in name recognition are cases exactly like this,” Klamka said after I reported the error to him. “There are a number of things we can do to make it even better. We hope to take into account name clusters in the future, which would have helped detect the right name in this case, because ‘Fake’ was by itself, whereas ‘Jake Klamka’ had two name-like words in close proximity, so we could have adjusted for that.”

In another slight wrinkle, the text message with the Fake link arrived at 2:57 pm, just three minutes before the scheduled 3:00 pm meeting instead of the usual 10. Klamka says the delay was a sign that I’d just signed up, so the system was busy ingesting all of my future meetings and didn’t get around to processing the 3:00 pm meeting until it was almost too late. It may also have been a sign of Noteleaf’s burgeoning popularity—the startup’s system has been under strain since March 17, when a number of stories about the company appeared in VentureBeat, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Fast Company, and the New York Times.

Noteleaf started off with Google Calendar because Google offers outside programmers the best set of tools for connecting with its systems, Klamka says. In the future, the company may develop ways for people to connect to iCal, Outlook, and other calendar systems. And Klamka says he and Chung have much broader ambitions. “For us, where this gets really exciting is around that philosophy of having the right information presented to you at the right time even though you haven’t asked for it,” he says. “Right now, we’re focused on meetings, but there is a lot of room to leverage whatever information is out there.”

While Noteleaf currently delivers information at a fixed time, for example, it could also use other criteria such as your location as the prompt—sending a text message when you get within half a mile of your meeting location, say. “Our phones are becoming like little mini-sensors, and there’s no reason why an app like this couldn’t use information from the phone itself to figure out what is the right time and the right information from the context,” Klamka says.

Noteleaf is free for now, but the startup might eventually impose a premium fee on “power users” who make frequent use of it, Klamka says.

Whether the services Noteleaf and its Y Combinator brethren are building make sense as businesses is, to me, an open question. In their current form, Taskforce and Noteleaf might make more sense as features of larger systems than as standalone products. Taskforce would probably work even better if Google bought it and baked it into Gmail, for example. And it’s easy to imagine a company like Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Research In Motion snapping up Noteleaf and adding the meeting-notification feature to their mobile operating systems.

But whenever I put this question to Y Combinator entrepreneurs, the answer is the same—they aren’t building to flip. Klamka says he and Chung want to build a big company of their own, the way a select few Y Combinator alumni like Dropbox have. “We don’t know yet what form it will take, but within this vision of the right information at the right time pushed to the user, we think there is a ton of room to grow,” Klamka says. “Dropbox, for us, is an incredible inspiration. It’s something that started off as a very useful tool that just made [the founder's] lives a whole lot easier, and now it’s growing like crazy—and not only growing but broadening.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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