We reveal a lot of ourselves online — not just our personal information, but also our personalities. Now a new program called Crystal tries to determine your personality based on your web activity. And they aren't stopping there; the program also tells other people the best way to communicate with you. So does this fall under the category of "innovative and useful" or of "intrusive and creepy"? I'll let you be the judge.
Crystal (presumably named because it makes communication "crystal clear" although "crystal ball" comparisons also present themselves) uses an algorithm to analyze a person's online behavior. The program then determines what the ideal way to communicate with this person might be, and is able to make suggestions for you based on that information. So if a person appreciates getting to the point, Crystal might encourage you to make your emails shorter. Or it might let you know if someone appreciates self-deprecating humor, or if they hate exclamation points. All of which is obviously extremely useful and could make communicating much easier.
But even aside from the whole "Are machines better at human interaction than we are?" question, there's also a bit of a creep factor. Crystal works by searching a person's web profile, whether or not that person uses Crystal themselves. There is not opt out. So when you type someone's name into the program, you're essentially asking it to compile a whole lot of information about who they are as a person, whether they'd want you to or not. And by the same token, total strangers could now be using this program to learn all kinds of things about who you are, without your even knowing.
It is undeniable that programs to aid communication are useful. Modern life involves a lot of online communication, and that can hard to navigate. When you speak to someone in person, you can rely on body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and other indicators to tell you how they are responding, and you can adjust accordingly. But with email or other forms of written online communication, it can be hard to know how well your messages are being received. So in some ways, it makes sense to have a digital tool to a digital problem.
Of course, looking at it another way, it's easy to wonder if maybe we are starting to outsource one of the things that make us human, namely how we relate and interact with one another.
So do you find Crystal useful or invasive? Creative or creepy? Well, if you want to try the service out for yourself, you can sign up on their website here.