The Hal Blog
Published in

The Hal Blog

Hal-lelujah!

Long before working from home became “a thing”, a little app called Hal was developing a solution to employ capable people who were adept at research, recommendations, online search results and curating information for others. And in each case, there were residents of major cities (where potential unemployment could be an issue for them) who were more than willing to render that service for a small fee from wherever they were with no need to commute, as long as they had a data connection. With that concept in mind, the team at Hal went to work to create an ecosystem that helped their users send requests over a fully encrypted app — while it also sought out a“Hal” that they could employ in order to give users a lot of value!

When Hal was in its early development, it started out creating its value proposition in NYC. It was the ideal place where people who were looking for a legitimate side hustle or who wanted the flexibility to work from any location on their own schedule could provide value and get paid. The goal was to create some buzz around the app as a Personal Assistant that bucked the trend of using solely AI to generate search results, recommendations, etc. and thereby provide the human touch in specific cities so that users traveling to those areas had the benefit of a true local’s expertise!

The kickoff idea was a slice of genius: launch at a major university and share the Hal app with them to help recruit college educated people and their friends to become Hals for a brand new, budding user base. Those students/residents of NYC were best suited to share a “local’s” perspective when it came to recommendations for new hot spots, independent businesses to check out, a cool “secret” spot for a great meal at a great price, places that locals go to chill, etc. In other words, you could use Hal for a host of request types: tips when traveling to NYC, requests for information, help with a quiz or test in school, insight on a topic or even quick lookups when the user is too busy to conduct the search themselves. In like fashion, people in or from the area could be paid a nice fee for their time as they provided solutions for users who had requests they were anxious to complete. A total win/win!

Once the launch kicked off, the Hal team would then vet those who wanted to “become a Hal” — which is basically someone who agrees to help users with their requests that are placed over the app — for a small fee per session. Essentially, Hal wanted users to be able to use the app for virtually any (legitimate & legal) request. After a free trial period, users could opt-in to continue to use the app for a nominal monthly subscription fee. If the user experience exceeded expectations, a subscription model would both generate income to build out the app and be a baseline to derive income to pay the pool of available “Hals” that were satisfying all the requests.

The other key selling point (especially since this became even more of an issue when Facebook was seen in Congressional hearings on the news each day), was the fact the the Hal app was completely private on BOTH sides of the interaction. Users’ personal information was not being stored or sold for ad revenue — instead, the founders knew that privacy was top of mind for the whole world, and as privacy advocates themselves, they ensured that user data and the “Hal” that was assigned to them were both completely anonymous and encrypted from within the app! With privacy as a top priority, new users were even more comfortable interacting with a human whose sole goal was providing great results for them based on their requests.

The logistics of this idea are nothing short of amazing. Consider how this all works behind the proverbial curtain: First, there needs to be enough Hals available, each of whom log in when it is best for them, in order to match a user with a Hal. That is no small feat, since even in a large pool of Hals, the timing of each interaction has to be such that a user isn’t left waiting. The team planned for this eventuality with each beta test to ensure that users were not “left on hold” so to speak, for more than 2 minutes or less.

Once a user and a Hal are connected, the requests are essentially communicated over a series of texts back and forth to ensure that the user is happy with their result. Even better, since it is a human interaction, it can be as succinct or as lengthy as a user would like — no more shouting at Alexa when she says “I’m not sure about that, but I’m learning.” That reply is of very little help when you need an answer now, and it is one of the most powerful UVPs (Unique Value Propositions) that Hal can bring — since humans won’t give up and give you a trite, pre-programmed reply like Alexa!

As an added enhancement, the user may opt to record their request via audio within app (this data is not stored either, BTW) and then the Hal assigned to them at random can actually listen to the request and get to work texting them the answers. The key here is (at present) Hals can text the information to the user, but for the sake of convenience, the user can speak the request vs. soley texting the request from within the app. The obvious advantage is that if the request has multiple components or requires some initial info to better qualify the nature of the request, it’s a lot easier to dictate that vs. typing it all out. For example “Hey Hal! I need to know a place where locals go to get a great sea bass dish. But I don’t want it to be a stuffy fine dining place. I’d prefer something that is affordable. You know, just not a five star place. And since I’m going with a party of 12, it needs to be able to accomodate large parties. Ohhh, and if you can find one with outdoor seating, that’s a plus.” As you can tell, Alexa, Siri nor the mighty Google Assistant could handle those kind of very human requests: Enter Hal…

The big key as to what set the Hal app apart from all the other voice activated options was a secret weapon that somehow got by Google, Amazon and Apple: using actual human beings!

Another compelling factor that truly helps the Hal app over-deliver on its promise is that Hals are trained NOT to use the paid search results they find to answer requests. In other words, Hals recognize that requests need to be tailored and require curation in most cases, so they know to avoid the PAID search results. Many who are new to search results get hoodwinked into using the very first answer at the top of page one in Google. Anyone can do that…it’s the people who assess the value of the result and curate information to suit the need that makes Hal a standout app as a true Personal Assistant service. It is another ingredient in their secret sauce that demonstrates why you would opt for this service, even at a premium rate (NOTE: Their subscription fee, after a liberal free trial period, is definitely NOT a premium rate — it’s less than the cost of a two PopTarts per day!)

Yet another advantage is that Hals are around 24/7, awaiting requests so that users get answers when they need them. It’s literally an “always on” type of app that you can use. Bear in mind that since you are connecting to another human, the response time will be a bit longer than Siri, since they do need time to read the request and get an understanding of what the user is searching for…so don’t panic if you don’t get an immediate reply! Give them a moment to uncover what the request is [fully] so you can begin the interaction in a way that is reasonably timely.

Helpful Tip: Hal has since since “opened” in a few more cities after its NYC launch a couple years ago. Once you download the app on the Apple App Store, you will be asked which city you would like to use as your city of choice. As of this writing, you can choose from Toronto, Los Angeles, NYC and Miami, with other cities being added through this year and next year. Even though it provides a measure of “specialization” in certain cities when you register on the app, it remains an all purpose app that can be used for info, searches, research, how tos, and other needs — and does not have to be location specific in that regard. You can align with any of the cities it offers but still use it for non-location specific requests.

So if you’re short on time, too tired or stressed to look for detailed info, need a hand with the best resource to use or want a recommendation on a place to go when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted (as just s few options — there are tons of use cases out there!), check out the Hal app and you too will be proclaiming “Hal-lelujah”!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
MAVRick

MAVRick

Polymath. MacBook Pro Enthusiast. Narrator. Technophile. Orthogonal Thinker. Gadget Guy. Corporate Dropout. Crowdfunder.