David E. Weekly

We interviewed David E. Weekly, founder of Coceve and creator of the super-handy IMSmarter.com. What is IMSmarter? David describes it as a "secretary that helps you out by sitting between you and the rest of the world, letting you know about things that are interesting and taking notes of your meetings so you can recall what was said later." Works on all computers, no software to install, very neat idea. We predict this will be a standard part of IM soon.

Name, rank, a little about yourself.

Private David E. Weekly, Serial #55429...hey wait! I'm not in the military. ;) I've been a computer geek since I started programming at five - less impressive than it sounds when you realize I was just copying in BASIC programs from a kids' magazine into an Apple II/c to see what happened. I've been tooling around with computers since then - I actually got pretty involved in the whole MP3 movement while I was getting my CS degree at Stanford. I believe I was the first person to have a web page that actually explained what MP3 was in layman's terms.

I signed up with ICQ fairly early on (way pre-AOL) and have been following the IM space with great interest since then. I worked for a year and a half at the virtual world startup There.com, which was a neat experience and definitely got me thinking about ways to enhance communication between people. If you ever do sign onto There.com and see (and hear) jukeboxes in the world, that's my code - I'm pretty sure that was the first 3D implementation of a Shoutcast MP3 player. :)

My personal website is at http://david.weekly.org/.


What is IMsmarter?

It's a new kind of IM enhancement. Go to www.IMSmarter.com to check it out. Geeky people would call it a "proxy", but the easiest way to think about it is as a secretary that helps you out by sitting between you and the rest of the world, letting you know about things that are interesting and taking notes of your meetings so you can recall what was said later. In the same way that you don't need to change your phone or mail systems when you get a secretary, IM Smarter doesn't require you to change anything about your current IM habits - after a thirty-second configuration (not requiring you to install any software), you're good to go. You just keep on using your favorite client on your favorite OS: AIM, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, MSN Messenger, iChat, Trillian, whatever! It works on Windows, OS/X, and Linux!


Give us some example of IM Smarter in action.

It's 4pm; you're at work and you remember you were going to meet your buddy for dinner tonight, but you've forgotten where. He's not online, but you had IMmed with him last night from home to discuss where you'd meet up. Without IM Smarter, you'd be screwed - with IM Smarter you just log in to the web site, click on your buddy's name, and see the chat you had last night.

or...

You've got a lot going on and are feeling a bit scatterbrained; you've just put the clothes in the wash and need to remember to move them over to the dryer in 40 minutes, plus the casserole needs to come out of the oven in 30 minutes. You're doing a million other things and you know you'll forget when you need to do what. A "calendar" is the wrong tool here. With IM Smarter, you just send two IMs:

   bug me in 40 minutes about the clothes in the wash
   bug me in 30 minutes about the casserole

And presto! Even if you log off and log back in, you'll get an IMmed reminder - even if you log on from a different location and with a different screen handle! And even if you sign on with a different protocol!


Isn't this just like (Google Desktop / DeadAIM / Trillian)?

Google Desktop can be pretty handy, but can only search chats on the same computer from which you IMmed, can only search them provided you IM using the official AIM client on Windows, and can only search them if you're running Google Desktop application...and want to give everyone else who might ever sit down at your computer access to your full chat logs without a password. It can't do any kind of IM notifications, and even search-wise it can't let you search "all chats last week about sailing" or just search chats with a particular user. Google Desktop even makes it awkward to simply say "I just want to search my instant messages!" IM Smarter lets you securely search instant messages and richer-yet search functionality is planned for the near future. And you don't even have to install any software.

DeadAIM requires you to download software that modifies AIM. And it obviously only works with AIM. While you can log, you can only search logs of chats you had on that computer, and even then only chats on AIM.

Trillian is pretty sweet; it's one of only a select few pieces of shareware that I've found valuable enough to pay for. But it does require you to download a piece of software and change your IM habits. This hasn't proved popular with most IM users. A number of the features that work smoothly in the official clients don't work very well in Trillian (voice and video in particular). Trillian 0.74 and Trillian Pro 2 can both log chats but provide no real search capability. Trillan 3.0, currently in beta, can only search chats that you had while chatting on that computer using Trillian. All this said, you can use IM Smarter with Trillian; many of our users do! :)

What IM Smarter is doing - providing a zero-download consumer IM logging and notification service - is really a completely new kind of thing.


What are the future features planned for IMsmarter?

Providing logging is interesting - and hopefully useful - to a lot of people, but it's really only the tip of the iceberg. The really exciting and hugely novel stuff concerns notifications - the next major release (internally: Release Seven) we'll be deploying a rich notification architecture to let you know not only when your buddies update their websites, but when news likely to be of interest to you is happening; or when your package status changes with UPS or FedEx. Really, any time when you get a short email or are obsessively rechecking a web page is an opportunity for IM to make someone's lives easier.

One of the venues we'd like to explore is how we can help make IM more interesting and more secure; not just in terms of the logging, but also in terms of connectivity. For instance, we'd like to help filter out IM virii for people and let folks easily and safely share file attachments with whole sets of buddies. We take our users' privacy *extremely* seriously; we have a very strict privacy policy and even a rather unique Privacy Pledge that I and my co-operator David Ulevitch have signed. We're going to be continuing to look for ways to guarantee the sacred right of privacy for our users with Hushmail-like mechanisms. If folks don't want to bother with the legalese of the privacy policy, we're making a new "welcome" walkthrough that will hopefully make it clear that we're here as defenders of their privacy, not intruders.

A lot of very neat feature ideas come from our users, who email us with their ideas and post them on our forums at http://forums.imsmarter.com/. We had one fantastically neat suggestion to let people upload exported calendars and automatically get reminders; we've got that on our TODO list now. Many of the other suggestions range from layout comments to radical new ways of using IM. We look forward to hearing about, implementing, and deploying lots of other neat features suggested by our users - they really enjoy being able to talk directly with the developer of a service they care about and influence its direction.


Can anyone with a device that runs an im client can use IMsmarter?

While most IM clients can use IM Smarter, there are unfortunately a few clients/devices that are not supported at this time. Some devices that support instant messaging, like the Sidekick, do not have any way to configure the client to use our service. We do hope to partner with organizations like T-Mobile at some point to be able to provide IM Smarter functionality to these devices, but that's probably more than a month away.


What's the future of IM? is email on its way out?

Email isn't on the way out; IM is simply a different medium! IM may end up overtaking a number of the things for which we currently use email, simply because IM is better at them. Email is good at some things that IM is not, like composing a long, thoughtful reply, writing poetry or essays, or really anything where you need more than the granularity of a single line of text in which to compose your thoughts. You can write out an email, think about it, save it for later, then decide not to send it. You don't have that kind of flexibility with IM, nor do I think should you - it's just the wrong medium for that kind of interaction. So I don't think email will go the way of the dodo. But I do think that places where email can be annoying - like lots of tiny little notification emails and so forth - may well end up migrating to IM, where they belong.

IM has many advantages to email in terms of timeliness, but the part I think a lot of people miss when reporting about things like "SPIM" (IM SPAM) is that IM is fundamentally a centrally-authenticated protocol. The whole message delivery process is through a single agent! Fundmentally, this makes spam on IM a much more tractably-solveable problem than spam on email. And spoofing is incredibly harder on a mature IM system than on a mature email system. Generally, if you get an IM from someone with whom you've chatted before, you can be fairly sure it's them[*]. At least much more so than could be said for an email.

I think that in many ways IM has been kind of a second-class citizen, a bastard child of cyberspace. Business has understood and embraced email, but IM is viewed as a kind of renegade thing; something that needs to be monitored, controlled, and suppressed. When I first started getting into the IM enhancement market I was amazed to find a plethora of services offering centralized logging, none of which actually provided any value to the people whose messages were being logged! The "features" could *only* be used against you and couldn't help you do anything. They were only for corporate compliance. While there's good money in that market, I'd rather write non-evil software. I wanted to make something that could enhance people's IM experience and make IM a mature first-class Internet citizen with a service that really changes the way that people look at IM. Obviously, IM Smarter has a long way to go, but I think that with the help of our users, we'll quickly continue along that path. :)

Thanks so much for this interview!

Visit and try out IMSmarter for free.

[*] Cypherpunks reading this may point out that not only is IM not anywhere near end-to-end secure but that my entire service is based upon this flaw. They'd be right. They might point out that email-compatible systems like PGP provide a much better proof of identity than an IM handle. They'd also right about that. But for the average user, IM is a much more secure and trustworthy communications environment than email.

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Interview with David E. Weekly, Founder of Coceve and www.IMsmarter.com