The worst thing about meetings (other than the meetings themselves, which are terrible) is the talk that happens before and afterwards: small talk, sh*t-shooting, etc. Not only is it uncomfortable, it makes it genuinely hard to form real connections with your coworkers. And that, as most of us know, is how you get ahead in the corporate world (not anything silly, like experience or ability). Now, there’s an app called Refresh that aims to change all that.
The premise is this: Prior to a meeting, the app takes stock of the other attendees and rounds up some talking points that might be of interest to them. It covers things like professional updates, travel destinations, social media connections, and hobbies like sports teams. In a convenient push notification, it’ll let you know that Dave recently completed an IT certification, or that Ralph is a fan of the New England Patriots. The idea is that you can then use these talking points to avoid the typical banal pre-meeting small talk.
What the app is able to surmise is pretty astounding. From what I can gather, it aggregates all of this information from social media, primarily Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s kind of shocking how much we put out there about ourselves, when you think about it. Even outside the professional world, convenient things like which Facebook friends you have in common with someone can make first encounters much less awkward.
I signed up for it, and it’s pretty neat, if a little creepy. To join, you first give Refresh access to your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, and you can later choose to sync it with your email/calendar account as well. From there, you can type in anyone’s name, and it will pull up all manner of information about them. Any emails you’ve exchanged will show up, as well as more personal items. For instance, one of my bosses shares a birthday with Oscar Pistorius. What an icebreaker!
Of course, the app is not without its limitations, the biggest being that it depends entirely on what people choose to share with the public online. On the one hand, more and more people are beginning to realize the importance of online privacy, making publicly available information scarce. On the other, an online presence is so important to the insipid professional “branding” people do these days (LinkedIn headshots, anyone?) that there’s always something for it to crawl.
It’s also not perfect. For instance, I searched for my wife (to whom I’m very much connected in every online medium possible), and yet all it could pull up was our LinkedIn connection. We Gchat and email constantly, and yet it wasn’t able to capture any of that because for whatever reason, it couldn’t infer the connection from the information it has. That was my concern when I first read about the app — if the people you’re searching for aren’t signed up for it also, how much can it really know about them? And say everyone does sign up for it, does a new kind of awkwardness arise? Do you compliment Beth on her blog post, only for her to say, “What, did Refresh tell you that?”
It raises a few, albeit fairly benign questions as to when and to what degree it’s acceptable to “stalk” our acquaintances for reconnaissance purposes. Privacy-wise, I don’t know what’s going on there. While I would think there are some measures in place to prevent it, what are the chances of something someone shared privately (or on a limited basis) being revealed due to their association with Refresh? It’s one thing when it’s limited to public information from unaffiliated users, but once you give it access to your accounts, where’s the limit? Thankfully, I noticed that the developers make deleting your account an obvious, pain-free process if you choose to do so.
All in all, it’s an app that saves you a lot of time by scouring an impending contact’s social media accounts all at once — a clever idea, although not terribly revolutionary. Though I wonder what the future holds regarding privacy concerns, I say give it a try. As they say, never talk about the weather again.