Touchstone brings Attention Data to life in real-time

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I love RSS, I love IM and I love the concept of Attention Data. Wrap it all up together and put a just-in-time bow on top and what do you get? The Touchstone Attention Management Engine. I love it.

A product of Australia’s Faraday Media, founded by Chris Saad and Ashley Angell, Touchstone is currently in private alpha with a few hundred invites going out per month. There’s a new batch available now, but note that it’s for Windows only.

The company is announcing today a first round of funding and though it’s declined to provide any details on that funding Saad tells me it will mean a major ramping up of development. To be honest I was skeptical until he and I chatted about just what Touchstone does. Even prior to hearing about the funding, I’d visited the site months ago and left with no idea what was going on. I’m real glad I figured it out, because Touchstone is the coolest thing I’ve seen in quite awhile.

Here’s what it is: It’s a desktop app that integrates several sources of incoming information, runs them all through a set of filters that you administer and then notifies you automatically when important events have occurred. That notification will come in a variety of ways, depending on how important the event is relative to your prioritized filters.

What does that mean? It means you can set Touchstone to pull in RSS and atom feeds, POP emails and Gmail, filter the incoming items for keywords you’ve set to varying priority levels with sliders and tell the system how you’d like to be notified of events of different levels of importance.

Saad tells me it’s a little more complicated than just keywords, the filters also incorporate each item’s declared importance, the popularity of the item on the net and the item’s age. Sounds smart, though the proof will be in the pudding of long term use.

If you chose to have it do so, the desktop app can also scan the contents of your computer and recommend keywords based on your past work. They call that Intuitive Attention Management. That data is all saved locally never sent away from your computer.

Notification of new events comes in three forms: system tray alerts (toast), a news-ticker style bar and a cursor trail that floats behind your cursor for a few seconds when something you’ve predetermined is really important occurs.

Imagine seeing a cursor trail whenever an especially important email just came into your inbox, an important new task is assigned to you in Basecamp or your topic of interest is being debated on the front page of Digg. Cursor trail…what’s up?

It’s just feeds and email for now, but the company is holding a contest for developers to create new input and output adapters for the system, Saad says 50 developers have signed up so far. Here’s a number of ideas to inspire future functionality.

Business model? When it goes public you’ll be able to use this awesome service for free with some particularly contextual ads around it or pay to get an ad-free version.

This is the kind of tool that I can imagine becoming core to my workflow once there’s a Mac version. If this little dream called Touchstone comes true, it’s going between NetNewsWire and Adium on my desktop. It’s a tool for smart, personalized and persistent awareness of the information ecosystem.

Updated: See also Attensa, which I totally meant to include here at first and I just forgot. Sorry Attensa folks!

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