Five Annoying Tech Problems for the Next Hot Startup to Solve

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to-do list items. Or maybe it could even send automatic yet customized replies to unimportant messages. (In my journalistic work, I’ve found that I can reply to 80 percent of my e-mail using just six or seven templates, but I have to do the cut-and-paste work myself.)

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know e-mail is still very broken.

4. A/V Amateur Hour

At almost every public talk or panel discussion I’ve ever attended or been involved in, a microphone goes dead or causes ear-splitting feedback, or a presenter with PowerPoint slides has to fumble for five minutes to get his laptop connected to the projector. These glitches are so common that when they don’t happen, I personally congratulate the A/V technicians afterward and get their contact information so I know how to obtain their services in the future.

The needed invention here is probably some kind of software-driven system that forms temporary wireless links between all of the input devices in a room (microphones, laptops, clickers) and all of the output devices (loudspeakers and projectors) and plays traffic cop, automatically assigning the right-of-way to whomever needs to speak or present. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

5. Time Zone Terrors

The world is divided into 24 time zones, but most calendar software today seems to be built around the assumption that we’ll spend all our time in just one of them. When you’re traveling, there’s no easy, automatic way to make sure that the meetings you set up while you were in one time zone show up in the appropriate time slot once you get to the next one.

If we all had just one device to store our schedules, this wouldn’t be such a hard problem to fix. You’d specify the time zone for each meeting on your agenda, and when you traveled across zones, the calendar software would adapt to local time and shift the meeting into the correct slot. The problem is that these days, most people’s calendars live in the cloud, and have to be updated across multiple devices. I still haven’t figured out how to get my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad to show the same events at the same times when I travel. At least one of these devices always gets it wrong, which puts the mental burden of tracking the real time for each meeting back on me.

I’m not a software engineer, so I don’t have a concrete proposal for fixing the time zone problem. (Maybe we should follow China’s lead: the country is large enough to span three or four time zones, but in fact has only one, Beijing Standard Time.) All I know is that the first calendar maker to get this right will win my undying loyalty.

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Einstein said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” He was probably talking about lofty things like world peace, but I suspect it’s also true of more mundane problems like teleconferencing, podcasts, e-mail, A/V technology, and calendars. It’s time to rethink each of these technologies from the ground up, rather than limping along with our 20th century solutions. That’s what startups are supposed to do. So get busy, dammit!

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6 responses to “Five Annoying Tech Problems for the Next Hot Startup to Solve”

  1. @cmirabile says:

    Wade: great piece, as usual. And I agree 100% with all your gripes. Have a couple tools to suggest to address two of the issues. First is UberConference – great conference call technology from the guys behind Grand Central (acquired by Google) – it requires no PIN and you get a web interface to each call so you can see who is on it and who is speaking. And their screen sharing app is good to. Second tool for you to check out relates to the audio and video search – there is a great company called 3Play Media that does human quality transcriptions for about the price of machine transcriptions (their killer innovation is a proprietary editing console for cleaning up issues). The resulting transcription is perfectly time coded – you can edit video by word-processing the transcript. Cool Cambridge MA based start-up. Enjoy this summer weekend!

  2. @goKonrad says:

    Great article! Wanted to share that Speek solves the exact problems you described with terrible conference calls. That sounds like our pitch almost word for word :)

  3. Reed Gusmus says:

    Thanks for the article, I can definitely relate to some of those pain points. I’ve used 3Play Media before and it’s very useful. We also use iMeet (www.pgi.com/imeet ) for video conferencing and haven’t really had any of the problems you talked about.

  4. the conferencing problems like Unsearchable Audio, audio distorting etc. are usually faced in free conference calling services. to get quality conferencing U need to pay some money. I use http://www.conferencecalls.com/ which provides cost effective conferencing solutions with great audio quality, global access and no need to install any special software.