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Tech

Not enough hours in the day? There's a personal assistant for that

For the time-crunched and cash-strapped, Handmark is launching a personal assistant service that could help people actually hammer through their to-do lists.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

For a couple of weeks now, I've been putting off a trip to the DMV, mostly because I've been wanting to do some homework ahead of time so I don't find myself making several trips (it's happened before.) But I just haven't made the time to navigate my way through the DMV's Web site or sit on hold, waiting for a DMV agent to answer my questions.

So I handed the job off to one of my personal assistants, someone who did all of the research, downloaded the forms, calculated the fees involved, wrote out specific instructions and sent all of it to me in an e-mail within a few hours. Yes, I have a whole team of personal assistants at my disposal - but not because I'm some wealthy, entitled person. (Ha!!) The best part about these personal assistants of mine is what I'm paying to have someone on standby, ready to do whatever I need, 24 hours a day, seven days a week - $10 per month.

The service is Handmark's MyAssist and it's actually been around for a while under the guise of a concierge service built into the premium version of Handmark Pocket Express, a mobile app for most smartphones. MyAssist will formally launch next week as a standalone - and still kind of bare-bones - service but I gave it a test run earlier this week. Here's how it works:

Requests, initially, are submitted by calling the MyAssist call center. You tell the assistant what you need and they make it happen - but that doesn't mean they do it themselves. Case in point: when I asked my Facebook friends what they would have a personal assistant do for them, they replied with answers like file papers, clean the house or fix dinner. These personal assistants will gladly search for someone in your area who will file papers, clean the house or drop-off dinner - but you'll have to pay those service providers separately.

But some of the other answers I received from friends are perfect for this type of service: track down and order a replacement hubcap, research smartphone plans or make reservations - whether airline, hotel, restaurant or golf.

For the $10 monthly service fee (or $100 annually), you can call your personal assistant as much as you want and ask for pretty much anything. For $4 a month (or $40 a year), you get a more restricted service that's designed for emergencies - such as calling for a tow truck, asking for driving directions or finding a pharmacy to fill your prescription while you're traveling.

The big push for the company is to grow through mobile apps that will eventually offer more features. For now, it's more like a speed dial button for the service, connecting you with the call center. But you can imagine it growing into more of a true personal assistant service. Somewhere in my profile, I'd like to be able to provide specific information about myself so that the assistant knows as much as possible to get the tasks done - what type of deli sandwich I prefer, what size shoes I wear, whether I prefer an aisle seat to a window seat and, eventually, a credit card number to go ahead and order the flowers for my wife's birthday and have them delivered to her office (of course, that address would already be on file, too.)

It's interesting to see the service compete on the mobile front, especially because it's so low-tech, a voice service today. Still, the mobile access is critical - especially when you consider that it's targeted at the time-crunched professional who probably spends more time on a Blackberry than a laptop.

I like to think of that personal assistant sitting in a call center in middle America as my my own personal Googler, someone who not only knows how to simply find stuff on the Internet but also has the time to devote to these tedious tasks. I may not have much time these days to take care of things on my to-do list myself, but I do have an extra $10 every month to pay someone to do it for me.

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