I had never spoken to Rachel before, but when the phone rang, a full report of her personality and preferences appeared immediately before me. "Rachel will respond best to emotional, conversational language and will likely find a long list of details or instructions to be boring," it read.
I clicked through and pulled up her full analysis: "Tell a few jokes" was one suggestion. "Use self-deprecating humor." They were methods I'd usually shy away from in the first 10 seconds of meeting a stranger.
"Hey, sorry I didn't call earlier," I said. "I meant to, but I'm kinda trash." She laughed, loudly. Needless to say, what could have been an awkward business call went very well.
The tool I was using was Crystal, an algorithm that tells you how everyone around you secretly likes to be spoken to and communicated with. When you punch someone's name into Crystal, it looks through blogs, social media and anywhere that person appears on the Internet, then matches that person with one of 64 personality types. It's more nuanced than any Myers-Briggs test — and a lot more useful.
Crystal can sweet-talk your friends, lovers and coworkers better than any pick-up artist.
Crystal's mission is simple: Communication stinks. Help people talk to each other. Crystal doesn't just tell you that someone is creative or stuffy or prudent. It tells you if your boss wants you to interrupt her if she sidetracks a conversation, or to start your discussions with a compliment, or to schedule your meetings in person instead of over the phone. It tells you how to treat a person the way he likes to be treated.
"If we have different personality types, it can be like we're speaking a different language," Crystal creator Drew D'Agostino told Mic. "Crystal isn't giving you the ability to manipulate someone, it's helping people communicate more clearly."
Crystal is still in beta testing and was initially designed as an email extension. "Text messages might be the most broken, but email is also pretty low-hanging fruit," D'Agostino told Mic. "This translates to any communication medium."
Anytime you open an email with Crystal installed, a "View Personality" button shows up, and as you compose a response email, it will make suggestions. If I send an email to my editor that begins with "The quickest way to..." Crystal will remind me that he "usually looks for the highest quality option, rather than the quickest."
But the insights gleaned from Crystal can be used in casual conversations too. They can become the basis for entire relationships. Crystal can sweet-talk friends, lovers, coworkers and strangers better than any pick-up artist.
Crystal wants to be the new profile page, the new LinkedIn, the new hub for people to learn more about you. Instead of telling people where you went to school or what events you recently attended, it shares what's most important to you.
It's tough reading your own profile at first. Like your horoscope, you're tempted to embrace self-affirming and vague prognoses and quick to reject anything you don't immediately recognize in yourself. "It doesn't come naturally to me to 'act as a mediator' in group discussions? Fuck you," I thought, poring over my profile. So I sent it to my closest friend, Eric, to see what he thought about its notions of what I'm like to deal with.
"Many of these things apply to you, but just as many are broad, reasonable things that apply to most people," Eric said, mostly unimpressed. (I thought its profile of him was dead-on.)
But again, Crystal isn't just a self-obsessive personality test or BuzzFeed quiz to put on your Facebook. It's a public instruction manual, a blueprint, a Readme.txt for anyone who wants to communicate with you the way you'd like to be communicated with. And it can pair you up in teams, playing personalities against each other for the best outcomes.
About an ex-girlfriend, Crystal was about to remind me that it comes naturally for her to "prioritize innovation and excitement above stability and security." If only I had Crystal sooner.
Regarding my editor and immediate superior here at Mic, Crystal told me to "interrupt them if the conversation is going too long." For the copy editor who sits next to me: "Use logical appeals if you argue." And about an ex-girlfriend: It comes naturally for her to "prioritize innovation and excitement above stability and security." If only I had Crystal sooner.
And it takes self-selection biases out of the mix. Most personality tests hinge on the person being examined answering their own questions self-consciously, where Crystal evaluates you when your guard is down, based on materials you didn't think would be used to measure your character.
Does Crystal take the magic out of being human? I asked D'Agostino if he was worried that a well-tuned conversation would restrict the artful spontaneity and chaotic dance of conversation. He said that my question was probably just a concern of my personality type.
Learning the ways a person likes to be spoken to and tailoring communication to your advantage may sound like a masterful manipulation tactic, but only so much as a teacher in a classroom has to adapt a lesson plan to different kinds of learning styles — visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. D'Agostino uses Crystal himself; he's begun to put his full faith in the algorithm.
"Crystal is, at the core, a large database of personalities," D'Agostino said. "What we want to do really well is use that data to help people improve relationships. Eventually, we want people to present these profiles proudly." Imagine wearing Google Glass with a Crystal extension enabled: Faces in your line of sight would prompt a pop-up giving you clues to their personality, small ways to win them over. Social gaming would be integrated seamlessly into your daily life. Use it when asking your boss for a raise. Embark on a Crystal-enhanced first date.
I asked D'Agostino if he was worried that a well-tuned conversation would restrict the artful spontaneity and chaotic dance of conversation. He said that my question was probably just a concern of my personality type.
Isn't this all kind of creepy? D'Agostino gets this question more than any other; creepy has become his own C-word. But Crystal uses only information that's available just by Googling someone. As he puts it, Facebook and Google are up to way creepier things than "little ol' Crystal."
Still, the reason people are creeped out is this idea of someone using a social-interaction cheat sheet, gaming their way through a relationship. His solution? Open Crystal to the world. "If everyone has access to this info, it's nobody's secret weapon," he said.