Refresh gets a spot on Notification Centre (still USA-only)

Refresh is the app that seems a bit mystical when it presents you with a dossier (its phrase) about the person you are just walking up to meet. Mystical and maybe a wee bit creepy. But sometimes also so useful. Useful enough that I keep mentioning it to you even though it remains a US-only app.

And useful enough that yesterday’s Forbes roundup video of best productivity apps included it, though the presenters didn’t seem to glom onto the creepy mystical element so much. I’m just sensitive.

It’s also not quite useful enough to be as useful as you’d expect. I reviewed it months ago and forgot I had it until some many weeks later when it chimed up with one of these dossiers. But it does it for this person and not for that, it does it before this meeting and not that. And it hasn’t chimed a dossier at me in two months. Enough so that I forgot I still had it, until I got this email telling me about a new update:

There’s a new Refresh for you to try.

We updated the app you know and love to take advantage of new features in iOS 8. You can now install a Refresh widget in the Notification Center to see who you’re meeting each day, and insights display beautifully on any screen including iPhone 6 and iPad!

To install the new Refresh widget, update your app and then click “Edit” on the bottom of your Today screen. Click the green plus next to Refresh and you’re good to go!

Refresh now available as a Notification Center widget! – email from Bhavin Shah, Refresh (21 October 2014)

I am slightly confused by this: the Refresh app itself says you need to update to the new version and then delete the old. Cool. Happens all the time: a brand new app downloads and until you delete the old one, you’ve got two on your iPhone and it all ends in hilarious consequences. But this time, once I’d tapped its update button, there was no second copy. Can’t see where the old one is to delete. Actually would be hard-pressed to tell you for sure that what I have is the new version, except that it does have that bit in notification centre.

Which on my iPhone right now looks thisaway:

I like that it’s Yasmin I’m meeting because she’s an author who routinely fakes all her personal information on Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin so that description of her is nonsense.

If you’re in the US or, like I do, have a US iTunes account then you can get Refresh here and it’s free.

Refresh app: just when you get used to it feeling creepy…

It’s still not out in the UK so you’ll just have to trust me here, but there is this iPhone app called Refresh which parses your calendar and prompts you with conversation starters for people you’re about to meet.

Refresh is very clever and it seems supernatural how it combs sources like LinkedIn to present its information. But as well as the fact that I will never use its suggested conversation openers – I prefer “Hello” to “Say, weren’t you on holiday in Marakesh from 16 July to 18 August?” – there are oddities. And these oddities keep reminding you of how Refresh is sitting on the very line between useful and creepy.

It’s meant to prompt you before a meeting and it does so, but not always. I forgot that I still had it after reviewing the app. Until one day, two months later, it pinged with details of the woman I was meeting to discuss a writing project. I showed her what it said and she revealed that it was all wrong: she had purposely lied on LinkedIn and Facebook in order to defeat this kind of thing.

But then I had a meeting right after that and Refresh didn’t do anything. But then I had a third meeting and it pinged.

A few weeks later, I was going to an event I’d produced and it pinged with what it called a dossier about a particular someone else who was going. That was freaky-plus because my calendar just had the event name and there was nothing I could see that named her – and didn’t name half a dozen other people that Refresh was ignoring.

But still, you know, even though I could just delete it and walk away, I am drawn back to it. There is something so smart about what it does that I’m fascinated at the algorithm. Plus, it gave me the name of someone’s partner and I’d forgotten it. So thank you, Refresh.

Except, last night I got something new. Have a look, see what you think. Is this what I was really doing last night?


Lying on Facebook

notificationsPreviously…  about six weeks ago I told you of a new iPhone app that scanned your calendar and researched details on all the people you are due to meet. It’s called Refresh and as yet it is still not available in the UK. My quick summary review was that Refresh is astonishing, if not a little creepy. It suggests conversation topics (“Say, haven’t you just been to Cuba?”) and that was far too far.

Now, read on.

I’ve not used Refresh since I finished the review but I also didn’t delete it. Chiefly because I forgot all about it. But last weekend I it prompted me. I had a calendar event called just “Alan and Cathy” and Refresh prompted me with extensive details about Cathy. Without my asking or even realising, it was parsing the calendar and it recognised which Cathy even though the entry didn’t include her surname. I have no idea why it didn’t pick up on who Alan is. I also have no idea why it prompted me then when I must’ve had a dozen meetings in the past six weeks.

Nonetheless, it was fascinating: it had culled details from Facebook, LinkedIn and I think other places but I can’t tell what. I really did learn things I hadn’t known about Cathy. And I was able to start a conversation. “Say, did you know you share the same birthday as Emmylou Harris?”

“Yes,” she said.


Yesterday I had four meetings and Refresh nudged me with a notification for two of them. One of which was startling because while it was with someone I haven’t really known all that long, I had no idea she was a Philosopher with a particular company, I had no idea she lived in Bulgaria.

She hasn’t. She isn’t.

She’s friends with a security consultant who winced at her Facebook profile and said she was saying far too much, she was making identity theft far too easy. So she tells me that she had a quick run through her Facebook page and changed everything to a lie.

I love that Refresh has this almost alchemy-like ability to ferret out information and that it is stymied by good, old-fashion porky pies.

Refresh is free on the US App Store here and the company says it will be coming to the UK.


US-only (for now): Refresh app briefs you on people

New in the US App Store for iPhone, Refresh parses your calendar for the names of people you’re meeting and then compiles as much information about them as it can.

The information is gathered from social media sources in much the same way that you could and perhaps do yourself. Mynd does the same thing. But Refresh feels like it digs deeper and then it makes certain connections. Small but smart things: it will see, for instance, that someone’s Linkedin profile says they joined a company in 2010 but it will tell you they’ve “…been at Acme for nearly four years”.  A tiny difference but one that more fits how we might think of someone or how we might phrase it if we opened a conversation with them.

That bothers me a touch. On the way in to a meeting, it’s working to prompt you with things you might need to know about folk. It feels a little bit icky and especially so when it directly suggests conversation-starting topics related to their previous employment, their holiday or whatever.

Personally, my only conversation-starter is “Hello”.

But I am ferociously interested in people. It’s exciting meeting someone new and up to that conversation prompt, Refresh is good. I like the name: it’s really refreshing my memory of whomever I’m meeting.

Any time you dig too deep or you make, I don’t know, intense briefing notes about their pet dogs just so you can appear matey or chummy in future, I am uncomfortable. Embarrassed. Yet when you meet a lot of people and they are all doing work that you really want to know more about, it’s not an awful idea to make the odd note.

Recently I’ve been adding just a line to the Notes field in my OS X Contacts. I might say what we’re working on together. There was one woman whose husband’s name would simply never stick in my mind so I did write that down.

Refresh wants you to do more and it prompts you to do so.

refresh-app-blurredI got a push notification on my way out from a thing today and it’s still on my Notifications list as illustrated here in by far the most blurred-out screen grab I have ever taken.

I don’t like the line “What’s worth remembering about…” because the answer is EVERYTHING.

Still, if I wanted to, I could note that this fella was doing that work, this woman was doing that other work. And actually there was a fella today who is now doing a gig that he told me when we met back in November. If I’d made a note then, I might have remember to book a ticket in time.

So Refresh is very useful and it has some smart ideas that it has implemented well. I think it’s usefulness is directly tied in to how you think about people you meet and what you feel about briefing yourself this much.

It’s a free app so you can try it out very easily – but only if you have a US iTunes Store account. I asked the company and they confirm there will be an international release but there’s no date yet.

If you have a US account, you can find the Refresh app here. And whether you do to not, you can read more about it and the company on their official website.