Humin, an App for Remembering Faces (If You Meet Enough People to Forget Them)

Humin tracks and organizes your real life social interactions based on the data that already exists on your phone.

Aug 25 2014, 6:55pm

Image: Humin

When scrolling through your contacts, you probably have handfuls of numbers like Mike Drunkpizza and Alex ShinsConcert. But if you had Humin, a new iOS app, you wouldn't only know the whereabouts of your first encounter without a fake last name, you'd also know the friends you have in common, their current employment situation, and if they're in the same city as you right now.

Humin founder and CEO Ankur Jain told me that his team did not set out to create a new contacts or address book app. Instead, they created what they call a social search engine, which tracks and organizes your real life social interactions based on the data that already exists on your phone.

The goal was to organize and present your contacts in a meaningful, intuitive way. Unless your boyfriend's name is Aaron and you hate people named Xander, this is not happening in your alphabetized address book automatically.

Related: America Doesn't Download Apps, And Neither Do I

The app does a good job of mimicking a native iOS app. It's aesthetically pleasing, and seems relatively smart. I live in Seattle, and my home page shows six people who also live nearby. These people, on paper, seem to be my friends—I am connected with them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and have their cell phone numbers. 

I found Humin to be very useful in a couple of ways. Adding a location to a new contact where you met, as well as any notes you may search for later, is something I've tried to do before with a bootleg IFTTT recipe. For Humin to really be useful, you should be a busy, traveling person with a packed (virtual) rolodex. Furthermore, you should be the kind of person that wants to keep in touch with the people currently in their phone.

After using the app, I found out that I'm not one of those people. For one, there's no way for the app to detect when I am sending a text or making a call for work purposes, skewing the Humin algorithm into thinking certain people are your friends. 

But only by viewing the Humin app did I realize I had friends (read: almost-stranger Facebook and LinkedIn connections) in Seattle that I didn't know about. Ideally, you should want to act on this information and call these people. I was not compelled to do so. 

That might be more of a commentary on the status of my personal relationships than app functionality, but still worth noting. (Side note: the app uses really nice stock photos to use when your contacts don't match up with Linkedin, Facebook, or email.)

My dad, visually represented by this plant growing from a dead log.

If you are a busy, traveling professional who meets new people every day, Humin will be useful. When it's critical that you know when LinkedIn connections are in town, or need help finding a rogue contact by their employer and figuring out which friends you have in common, this app will help you out. But if you don't have trouble remembering who your friends are, it's probably not going to blow you away.

While many new apps are focused on monetizing new behaviors, such as hooking up with strangers or letting people borrow your car, the approximately 30 person team at Humin aims to make your phone better at using its existing data with contextual technology.

Humin, according to CMO Lane Wood, allows "you to do what you naturally wanted to do anyway. Hopefully it sits more in the background, not interrupting your day and causing you to learn or do something you weren't intending to do naturally."

While it is not an inherently sexy concept, a fresh take on managing your contacts is a potentially lucrative business.

When building the app, Jain and the team met with social psychologists to better understand how people retain and understand information. Their research showed that we remember people by face, where you were when you met, and details like their work history. Facebook authentication is currently required for the app, while things like LinkedIn integration are available if you really want to meet up with distant connections.

Humin has made these facets searchable, allowing you to find a contact based on when and where you met. "If you can mimic your technology off the way your brains work, you can tap into something really special," said Wood.

Naturally, security is a big concern for a tool that aims to collate the majority of your personal interactions. Humin branded their thoughts on security as "Humin Rights," which is a cute and startup-like thing to do, but beyond that, the company has made security a core talking point..

CTO Percy Rajani was not a "fresh Stanford grad chomping at the bit for a CTO role," Wood said. He's been around the block, holding a VP position at Deutsche bank, as well a senior technical role at Bell Labs.

Humin lets you note where you met someone. Given our interview was done over Skype, I wasn't sure where to say I met Jain.

While everyone talks about moving to the cloud, Humin wants to run locally on your phone. This seemingly backwards step is a calculated one, which Humin has done in part due to security. 

Running their app, which they describe as a search engine, on your phone supports the company's claim that personal data never touches the firm's servers.  Also, for the user who has no knowledge of authentication methods and key storage, an added benefit is that the app still works when you don't have cell service or wifi.

When it launched officially a couple weeks ago, a big question revolved around how Humin plans to make money, especially considering how valuable user data can be. 

Some more conspiratorially-minded commenters have also noted that Jain's father is Naveen Jain, whose company Intelius was sued multiple times for sleazy marketing practices.

With beta testers that included and Richard Branson, I kinda get the feeling I'm not popular or jet-setting enough to need it.

Regardless, Humin is pretty unequivocal about privacy, stating on its site that "Everyone deserves to keep their contacts private...We never share or sell personal information (emails, phone numbers) about you or your contacts."

This immediate question is if the company isn't going to sell your data, how are is it going to make money? While Humin isn't currently discussing its plans for monetization, I can imagine a subscription-based version of Humin is being considered. Jain also mentioned the flexible app structure (reiterating that it is a search engine, not an address book) will be helpful later if Humin is used in smart watches, cars, Google glass, and so on.

Humin describes itself as a "digital butler." This is appealing to people, because we're lazy. But I'm not sure if this is a perfect description of Humin. Based on my prior knowledge of butlers (Batman) they do not organize your social life, notify your friends when you're around, or remember where you met someone. A real butler stays at home, butling, and would not be privy to this information.

Jain said the app is meant to be valuable "whether you have 100 contacts, or 10,000." But with Humin's release already spanning 70 countries, and beta testers that included and Richard Branson, I kinda get the feeling I'm not popular or jet-setting enough to need it.

If you intentionally stay off Facebook when you visit your hometown so your whereabouts remain unknown, Humin is not for you. But if you often say, "Let's grab a drink when you're in town," and want to make good on a previously empty promise, Humin can help.