Pando the anti-productive "predictive intelligence" service

By Richard Nieva , written on April 25, 2013

From The News Desk

Here’s a little variation on the predictive intelligence theme. While most personal assistant apps focus on the busy parts of someone’s schedule, does the opposite: it focuses on the gaps.

I’ve written a lot lately on entrants in the personal assistant space. Here are the usual suspects: Google Now, Grokr, Tempo, and two different Sherpas (one is now Osito). Those services all aim to change the way people search, primarily by making it so they don’t search at all. Instead information appears on your phone when the service thinks you need it.

But each of those apps feed you information based on what you are doing or will be doing. For example, if you’ve got a meeting coming up, those apps will automatically pull up traffic information. Got an important call scheduled? Tempo pulls up dial-in information and relevant emails.

In the face of all these predictive productivity services,, which launches today, may be the anti-productivity app. This one instead focuses on leisure. If you integrate the service to your calendar, it looks at empty time slots and suggests events and activities that might interest you. For example, if you had nothing planned last night sometime between the hours of 5 to 10 p.m., the might have suggested you go to an art auction at the San Francisco MOMA.

The company comes out of Stanford’s StartX incubator, and has raised funding from angels including Words With Friends creator David Bettner and ex-Googler and EIR at Charles River Ventures Munjah Shah, though the company won’t disclose numbers until next week.

It’s an interesting idea, but there are still some wrinkles. Like any predictive intelligence service, it needs time to get to know you. This could be problematic when you’re essentially dealing with the negative space, so to speak, of a person’s schedule. For example, if a user carves out a part of the day to work in the office head down, he probably wouldn’t put that on his calendar, but that doesn’t mean he’s free. CEO Smita Saxena says the bot learns when you reject an event. It can also learn the types of events you might like by looking at what events you’ve attended on Facebook.

The service has a very narrow approach, and it may just be a feature -- one that one of the other bigger predictive services could snap up. But the idea of pushing event discovery to a user's phone is intriguing. It has the danger of being annoyingly noisy, but if done right, it could allow for pleasant surprises on a lazy weekend afternoon, especially in a city setting. Saxena says the app has listings for more than 150,000 events in the Bay Area over the next two weeks.

That’s where the opportunity may lie. Event listings are an important element in capturing the local market. They were a great boon for alternative weeklies in their heyday, before the Web made them easily accessible. A company that could innovate listings further will have local users eager for suggestions on how to spend their time. I don't know if will be the company to do that, but it’s a sound idea.