The End of Search As We Know It

By November 5, 2013No Comments

The first day of Pioneers Festival had a very contextual vibe. Pioneers Festival hosted Adam Cheyer, founder of Siri, Vishal Sharma, VP of Engineering and Product Management for Google Now, and WIRED’s editor, Olivia Solon for a fireside chat about Siri, Google Now and the contextual Internet. Search as we know it is over — let’s embrace the age of the virtual personal assistant.

Olivia started the discussion by asking Adam and Vishal to share their projects’ biggest challenges so far. Adam highlighted the importance of expectations management. In spite of its humor, Siri still isn’t a human being. Virtual assistants are at a stage where the web was in 1994. Promising but early. Audio commands as a feature is both a benefit and a risk: users can get really frustrated towards the product but the only way to improve such assistants is by lots of usage.

Siri is still very early stage

Vishal more or less agreed with Adam. He expanded Adam’s thoughts by mentioning Natural Language Processing, which currently is also a big issue. If a user phrases something in a wrong format to Siri and Google Now both systems won’t be able to help him. And device proliferation might be exciting but this usage paradigm needs a lot of innovation to work flawlessly in such different products, UIs and UXs.

Vishal also indicated that the world is moving away from being satisfied typing a well formulated search query to a direction of ‘grasping [the user’s] intent.’ This is a whole new exciting domain and there’s a lot of different interaction and accountability.

On a question about their products’ early days, Adam said that they were a small startup but tried to boldly visualize the future. We felt – and were – so audacious. Their main tasks were proactivity and personalization; and somehow their message got through and right now almost everyone is moving directly or indirectly towards this vision. For example, even Google desktop search tries to build a task context. It’s different to say ‘Book a table’ and ‘Book a table for 3 at 10 at Rudy’s.’ It feels like a natural conversation.

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Google Now: A bolder Siri?

After talking about how Google Now tries to be bolder than Siri, Vishal made a really interesting observation: “We took for granted the big screen computers and now everyone has mobile devices with small screens.” Mobile devices are reshaping so much of our culture that they actually make it hard to constantly follow the changes.

Privacy, of course, couldn’t be left out from the chat as Olivia’s question if consumers should be concerned about the amount of data those services collect about them. Both Adam and Vishal agreed on the importance of complete transparency and full disclosure towards the use of this data but they also mentioned that each user should think about how they to want to manage the tradeoff between privacy and, by extend, safety and convenience. That’s where this debate ultimately comes to.

The age of context, personalized mobile assistants, an ever-flowing stream of data and spatial services around us is present. It’s a matter of how will we use and benefit from it. Siri and Google Now help us achieve that.

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