If you have time, do me a favor. Check out the BETA equity mutual funds selector on www.personalogic.com. (While there, you might also want to select a car or a camcorder or a laptop or a bike.) When you select Mutual Funds as the area you want to visit (and then click GO) you’ll be offered a chance to proceed with the guidance of "an expert." Right now, that offer is a little buried; you have to read to the end of the screen to see it. But that may be just as well, because the expert is . . . me.
Whether you proceed generically or with my hectoring, here’s the question: Does it make sense? Is it helpful? Does it work? How should we improve it? Did you get any screwy results?
This is a venture backed by Barry Diller, American Express, the Washington Post, Softbank, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, so you can be sure they want to get it right. The goal is to be a completely objective aid to decision-making. The data is not intentionally skewed in any way to favor one mutual fund — or laptop or vacation spot — over another. It’s meant to work with your requirements and preferences and will show you at the end why certain funds (or laptops) ranked as they did — or failed to make the cut.
How will PersonaLogic make money from this? All suggestions are welcome. (But do you actually have to make money to get rich from starting an Internet company?) What I do know is that PersonaLogic co-founders Tom Sammon and Brad Scurlock have built a remarkable decision-making "engine," spending several years of their lives in the process. One of them was training computers to track Soviet nuclear subs not so long ago. Freeing him up for this is part of the "peace dividend."
As they tell the story:
It all started — long before our wealthy partners got involved — when Tom’s wife was expecting their first child. With the impending arrival of this very important cargo, Tom realized it was time to think more about things like safety and less about things like 0 to 60. Tom asked Brad, a car enthusiast, if he had any recommendations. This started Brad thinking: Why wasn’t there a program that helped people find their ideal cars? With their artificial intelligence and database experience, the two decided to create such a program.
They set about building a "decision machine" that would let them optimize the decision — find the model among the hundreds and hundreds of choices out there that would give them the most overall satisfaction for their money. And then they realized: The same decision engine that worked for cars would work for any other complex decision where there are hundreds of choices and lots of factors to consider.
Such as the selection of a mutual fund. Your feedback on the Mutual Fund section would be most helpful to me in spotting flaws, bugs and ideas for improvement. (See "E-mail Andy" below.)
(Actually, the company does have a way to make money. It contracts with other companies that want to use its decision engine on their sites to help walk customers through purchasing decisions. The PersonaLogic site is, for now at least, like a free showcase of its technology. Take a look.)