Hence my recent fascination with FancyHands, a New York-based personal assistance service. For $35 (for 15 tasks) or $55 (for an unlimited amount of 15-minute tasks), you can effectively leave anything that doesn’t require your credit card or physical appearance in the capable hands of an assistant team spread across the country. They’re not the first to do it – ACStant and GetFriday use similar systems, but do not necessarily employ US-based or native English-speakers for the job.
In essence, FancyHands emphasizes the fanciness of the virtual personal assistant. These are intelligent, well-spoken and genuinely useful people. It’s quite simple to use, too – you sign in via a Google account to register and pay, and then can email a request email to a generic FancyHands email box. Once that arrives, you are responded to with a unique email address for that specific task – and said tasks are organized on a FancyHands.com dashboard.
I had them do research for me – actual things that I’d usually do myself that were neither time-sensitive nor crucial to me breathing on a minute-to-minute basis. What came back were several well-written, surprisingly-detailed reports that were far beyond a base-level Googling. In essence, they became an extra pair of hands – what one would expect, but not usually get, from a service such as this.
CEO Ted Roden founded built the system and site as a means of organizing his life beyond the basic tasks of writing a book, raising a baby and showering.
“I only really opened it up to other people because I couldn’t get the assistants to hang around very long with only my few tasks per week. So I figured if there were more people using the site, I’d get better assistants,” said Roden, who primarily uses it to avoid making phonecalls. ”Phone calls are terrible. I don’t like making them because they take up a lot of time. At least two people have to stop what they’re doing to make it happen.”
The site is entirely custom-built on Google’s infrastructure, and Roden intends to develop its natural language-processing capabilities to mirror the power of a real assistant, without having to keep the actual assistant consistent. The system also constantly rates and queries assistants to make sure they’re doing well – and Roden is a tough but fair boss. “When I have great assistants, I do everything I can to keep them. When they are under performing, they don’t last long.”
The service continues to develop on a weekly basis. They just launched their own physical mailbox service ($9 a month), where users can send letters, business cards and other simple paper documents to be scanned and organized before being shredded. They’re currently working on integrating Google Calendar planning into the system, and finding a way to securely let customers share their credit card details for phone calls that require one.
In an ominous closing statement, Roden quotes the system as getting smarter every single day.
“I have a lot of computers that can learn a lot from your habits.”