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Note-Taking App Cogi Promises Just The Highlights

on Friday, Mar. 14th

Note taking is an exceptionally useful skill. It is also the worst, just the worst thing you might find yourself doing. Which is way so many people record their meetings and classes. Get the whole thing on audio, the thinking goes, and you’ve got your notes.

Except for the fact that you have the whole thing on audio. Which defeats part of the purpose.

As someone who takes notes for a living–because let’s be honest, that’s the core skill involved here–I’ve tried a lot of solutions. Like many writers I’m constantly tweaking my systems, looking for the most effortless solution to getting the best stuff out of interviews and meetings.

This explains why I responded to a pitch from the makers of an app called Cogi, available currently for Android phones and running an IndieGoGo to fund development of additional features. Cogi, the developers say, lets users capture audio highlights as they happen with just a tap of a smartphone.

Mark Cromack, President of the Santa Barbara based Cogi, Inc., spoke to me via email.

TURNSTYLE: Explain to me a bit about how the audio capture works. It looks as if Cogi is always listening, and then like a DVR can capture the last chunk of what was said.

Mark Cromack: Cogi is about allowing the user to remain completely focused on the subject matter at hand, whether for an in-person meeting, a phone call, or even a lecture.  When you launch Cogi, we want the user to feel comfortable that they are NOT being recorded, so we don’t automatically start buffering the audio.

Once the user starts a session for that meeting or phone call, Cogi begins to buffer the audio, so when that moment happens and the user says “gee, I should write that down!”, they can just tap the Cogi highlight button, and Cogi backs up to capture the context.  Cogi continues to record (and make persistent) the entire highlight, whether 20 seconds or 20 minutes.

So, like a DVR, Cogi has a buffered stream that it can access to make that audio buffer persistent (but under the user’s control).

TS: Once a session has started, how much of a buffer is available? That is: how long from when someone says something brilliant until I have to tap the button?

MC: It’s configurable…  Some like to pull the trigger faster than others.  Or, another way to say it, some take their time deciding of this is a nugget or not.

In settings, you can set the backup duration to 5, 15, 30 or 45 seconds.  In our opinion, beyond that is just too long to remember when the good stuff really started.

TS: How long has the project been in development?

MC: Cogi’s mobile applications have been in development for about a year.  These are an extension of the original Cogi concept where we had web and computer based solutions that integrate with our back-end services.  With these back-end services, we can extend the reach of the mobile application to function just as seamlessly for phone calls as it operates for local recordings.

But, to make this work for phone calls, you need to build out telephony infrastructure, allowing our systems to capture both the inbound and outbound telephone streams.  As such, these are part of the premium services were there are modest per minute costs for those capabilities (like SkypeOut or Viber telephone services).

TS: Let’s talk privacy. If I’m parsing this right, Cogi uses cloud services for storage and optional transcription. What kind of steps are being taken to protect user information? Why not just have the app buffer locally?

MC: The Cogi app does buffer locally.  But local storage is often limited.  Further, an extremely compelling aspect of our service is to be able to trivially share the output from a session.  For example, we met today for 90 minutes on our go-to-market strategy, where we mapped out critical aspects of our intent on the whiteboard.

With Cogi, we were able to easily capture three different audio highlights and the whiteboard content.  Not only can we share that with those that were in the meeting, but we can also share that content with others on our team.  And, we are not emailing 25 MB or larger audio files around.  And, as you see from the images on the Play Store and the video, the best-in-class user experience depicts the images you captured during that session with all of the audio highlights.  So, you can review that whiteboard picture and the three audio highlights at the same time, all on your mobile device.

With Cogi’s share capabilities, we share a link to the content, allowing share to make collaboration compelling and valuable.  Note that session level share is part of our back-end integration, and as such, it will be part of a software release later this year.

More specifically to your point about privacy, our back-end services are needed to extend the usefulness of the app for share, backup (what if you lose your phone), and extended storage (to name just a few).  Integration with third-party repositories (Dropbox, Drive, etc.) is also in the plan.  And we manage the security of this content in the same secure ways as with online banking and other critical online repositories.

As for transcription, we handle the transcription privacy concerns through the creation of many smaller, segmented audio transcription tasks, where no user identifiable information is shared with the human crowd.  This has proven to be very effective.  And for those with extremely sensitive information, they can opt not to use the transcription capabilities.

TS: There’s an app in the Google Play store already, why go to IndieGoGo for the iPhone version?

MC: The primary purpose for the IndieGoGo campaign was to drive invitations to our private beta program for the premium services where the user can perform all of the same functions on phone calls as they can today with the app for in-person meetings and conversations.

Imagine all of the important work we all do on phone calls.  You’re waiting at the airport for your flight.  Taking notes can be extremely challenging.  With Cogi, a simple tap on your mobile phone, and you’ve captured that important three and a half minutes of content, so when you arrive home, you can jump on that critical task, and not ask yourself, what did Jim say again?

As for the iPhone version, that will be available soon in the App Store, and like Android, it’s free to use (today and forever).

But through this IndieGoGo campaign, you can be part of the early beta for the premium services AND receive significant discounts in the membership fees and other premium capabilities.

TS: You’re using flexible funding, if the target number isn’t met, what features get cut?

MC: There are no features that are dependent specifically on the IndieGoGo campaign.  Rather, we are offering an opportunity for early users to get into our premium beta and receive discounts while helping us prove in all of the new functionality.

TS: The pitch video mentions two teams–California and Fargo–how many people are working on Cogi?

MC: We have a team of developers in Fargo that are building our mobile applications that tie in with the development that was done by our Santa Barbara based team, building our unique back-end infrastructure.  Cloud-based media services, telephony infrastructure and a crowd-based transcription solution are core components of this back-end service solution.  We have over a dozen people working on the Cogi team.  Our California business and design team drive the requirements for the unique user experience and the technical direction of the product.

TS: Was this a project born out of personal frustration? 

MC: Sort of.

One of the original founders and I were discussing the challenges with capturing moments from one’s life.  As it turns out, my partner was on the phone or in meetings for many, many hours each day (to be honest, he was on the phone ALL day).  Despite his extensive knowledge of all key talking points, by the end of the day, keeping track of all these different topics or threads was a challenge.

So, we thought, what if we had a lapel pin, something you could just tap to capture that important moment.  Then, you could review that content later, when things “settled down”.  But rather than get into the widget business, we are all already carrying around these mobile devices, and they have much great capabilities than just audio microphones for recording audio.  We can capture images, video (future), tags and more…

So, yes, there was always that frustration that just a simple recorder could not help you, as who has the time to review two or five or more hours of meetings and phone calls.  But take the 5% or 10% of those meetings (in audio or text form), and Cogi was born.

Cogi is currently availible in the Google Play store and an iPhone release is planned.

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