LA Times on offshore personal aides

Los Angeles Times staff writer Julie M. Makinen explored different types of personal assistants that can be hired over the Web, reporting on the pros and cons of each.
Naturally, I started with the cheap one, a new outfit called Sunday ( www.asksunday.com). For $29 a month, the assistants at Sunday would do 30 tasks for me.

The rules were simple: Each task could take no more than 30 minutes, and each had to be something that could be accomplished, ahem, at a distance: These assistants, I learned later, are mostly in India.

The assistance-at-a-distance model ruled a lot of things out. The assistants could not pick up my dry cleaning or go stand in line to mail a package.

But I was surprised at how much they could do. Once I had registered at the website, I uploaded some personal data, such as my frequent-flier account numbers, and the names and phone numbers of my dentist, hairdresser and doctor. If I wanted an assistant to make purchases on my behalf, I could also load credit-card information in encrypted form.

Sitting on my couch at 1 a.m., I dashed off a flurry of requests via e-mail:

* Contact all my frequent-flier airlines and inform them that I had recently changed my last name and wanted my accounts updated.

* Schedule a teeth cleaning for sometime in the next few weeks, any time before 9 a.m.

* Make an appointment for a haircut.

* Find out how much an airline ticket to Las Vegas would cost on Labor Day weekend.

Within 30 minutes, there was an e-mail in my in box saying that my requests were being processed. By noon the next day, the folks at Sunday had sent a list of flight options, a confirmed dental appointment and a date for my haircut.

There was a snag on the frequent-flier accounts: The assistant found out that only I could change the name. But thoughtfully he had prepared a list of what each of seven airlines required in the way of documentation and where to send my requests.

Quickly accomplishedWow, three and a half things knocked off my list before noon. And it had cost me only $4!

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