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Siri, Cortana and Alexa are virtual assistants with female personas — though Siri can be a man, too. Until today, Google voice search didn’t have an identity or persona, though it has a female voice.

That is changing with theofficial rollout of Google Home. For the launch of Home, Google took its voice search capabilities and added a persona. So instead of calling Google’s spoken results Google Now, Ok Google or Google voice search, it/she will now be the “Google Assistant,” which is not quite a human-sounding name, but better and more descriptive than Google Now.

Like Amazon, Google will have devices (e.g., Home, Pixel phones) and products (e.g., Allo) that feature the Assistant the way Amazon has the Echo and Echo Dot, powered by Alexa. All this waspreviewed at Google I/Othis summer. You can interact with the Assistant in more limited form today in Google’s new messaging app, Allo.

This summer, it appeared that Google wasn’t going to use the name “Assistant” for its Google Home voice persona or as a consumer-facing product name. However, it appears the company changed its mind over the past several months. (The assistant will launch as female, but over time, it will offer more voices and potentially, personas.)

According to Ryan Germick, who led the Google Doodles team and helped develop the Assistant’s personality, Google Assistant should be thought of as a kind of friendly companion, “Always there but never in the way; her primary job is to be helpful.”

Like Siri, Cortana and Alexa, Google Assistant will tell jokes and have conversational features to “humanize” and make Google “more approachable.” One of the advantages that Google has with the Assistant over its rivals is its search index and knowledge graph. However, Germick said that there may be instances where Google Home will not provide a result, other than reading back a list of search results.

Germick explained that in creating the Assistant’s personality, Google utilized “storytellers” from Pixar and The Onion, among others, to craft scripted answers to a broad range of questions. Presumably, this is where the humor will show up. However, over time, there may also be “AI jokes” (We’ll see).

“Fun in, fun out,” Germick added. That means users will need to prompt the Assistant for jokes or snark, which won’t happen unsolicited. But that’s apparently happening quite a bit in Allo (e.g., “What is the meaning of life?”).

Germick called the Google Assistant a “beautiful marriage of technology and scripting.” The proof will be in the user experience — though what we saw demoed today was impressive to me — and undoubtedly, we’ll see numerous side-by-side comparisons of the Google Assistant with its competitors when Home formally comes out November 4. (Apple isalso rumoredto be working on a standalone Siri-powered smart home device.)

For now, we have the video released at I/O, showcasing the Google Home user experience.

Source : searchengineland

Categorized in Search Engine

Voice search usage is seeing unprecedented growth, with personal assistant devices leading the way. Columnist Wesley Young explores why this new medium is taking off, how it differs from keyword searches, and the challenges for local businesses to compete on yet another platform.

Since I noted Timothy Tuttle of Mindmeld’s LSA16 comments about the sudden increase in the volume of voice search queries, I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles on the subject. If the attention being given voice search is an indication of its anticipated impact on the marketplace, then it’s going to be a big deal.

The potential for voice search to become a major search medium is well illustrated by the number of slides Mary Meeker devotes to the topic in her annual Internet Trends report that was just released this month. Out of 213 slides, Mary included 23 slides on voice search. And while the numbers on voice search growth vary quite widely, they all agree on one trend: explosive growth.

Explosive growth and the reason behind it

At LSA 16, Tuttle shared that within one year (last year), the use of voice search went from a statistical zero to 10 percent of all search volume. That was huge. Yet more recent numbers show that growth accelerating — Google announced at I/O that 20 percent of all searches have voice intent, while Meeker’s charts show that in May 2016, 25 percent of searches on Windows 10 taskbar are voice searches.

Many explain the reason for voice technology’s growth is the improved rate at which voice commands are accurately captured. My personal experience with Siri a couple of years back was not a good one.

I started watching one of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies but couldn’t figure out where in the series it fell. So I asked Siri, “What order are the Bourne movies in?” Her reply: “You want to order a porn movie? Here are the 10 closest adult movie stores near you . . .” Fortunately, my wife heard my original query. But it illustrates the point — sometimes close isn’t good enough.

In 2013, Google’s platform had a word recognition accuracy rate of below 80 percent, according to Meeker’s figures. Just a couple of years later, that rate rose above 90 percent. Baidu now exceeds a 95-percent accuracy rate. Yet Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, stated that there is still significant improvement to make — that 99-percent accuracy is a game-changer. He believes 99 percent will make the difference between people barely using it and people using it all the time. At the current pace of improvement, we will get there soon.

Source: KPCB 2016 Internet Trends

A new player in search: Amazon

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent boom in voice-controlled personal assistants and search is Amazon. Whether it was planned or happened by pure luck, Amazon seems to have timed the release of Amazon Echo perfectly.

As Apple suffers due to the market saturation of smartphones and voice technology improvements are creating a new and satisfying user experience, the Echo’s voice-only interface distinguishes it from the vast sea of screen-based devices that have dominated the market.

It is estimated that in 2016, Apple will see a decline in sales of iPhones for the first time in a decade, while Amazon’s Echo sales are on the rise. Unit sales are still only a fraction of the sales of iPhones, but growth is impressive. In the first quarter of 2016, Amazon shipped about one million Echos, compared to Apple’s estimated 50 million iPhones, according to charts by Meeker.

However, that Amazon number reflects a year-over-year growth rate of about 150 percent. Amazon has over 300 million users. If the Echo gets adoption rates similar to the Kindle (both Fire and Reader), that could translate into total sales of approximately 168 million units. That’s not an unreasonable projection, given reports that the Echo is now outselling the Kindle.

How voice search is being used

And the ability to use voice recognition seems to uniquely satisfy a number of valuable consumer needs that would support continued use and growth of the medium.

Meeker cites a study that 61 percent of users state the primary reason they use voice is the utility of it when their hands or vision are occupied. What comes to mind immediately is use while driving. And yet, while a substantial number, 36 percent, said they primarily use voice commands in the car, 43 percent stated their primary use was at home.

Source: KPCB 2016 Internet Trends

Hound, a voice query app, found a fairly even split of voice query into four categories — Personal Assistant (27 percent), Fun and Entertainment (21 percent), General Information (30 percent) and Local Information (22 percent). Some of the functions performed in each category likely include the following examples:

Personal Assistant — Shopping lists; calendar events; appointment reminders; to do lists; making phone calls; online bookings; dictating and sending texts.

Fun and Entertainment — Listening to and buying music; interactive games and social media; searching and accessing video; sports schedules; TV listings.

General Information — Web search; recipes; news; banking and finance; travel.
Local Information – Restaurants; shopping; directions; home services; pizza; weather; reviews; local events; traffic.

Source: KPCB 2016 Internet Trends

Marketers will need to employ new strategies for local voice search

Given the growth of voice search, it has great potential to affect how local businesses are found. ComScore even estimates that by 2020, a full 50 percent of all searches will be by voice. While it won’t likely replace existing screen-based search, voice search will soon be enough of a factor that businesses need to understand strategies for being found by voice search.

And a significant portion of those strategies will be new: No one really has an existing SEO strategy for Amazon, so that will need to be understood and developed. Right now, Amazon’s Echo relies on “skills” — the equivalent of apps — to provide data which the Echo references for responses. For example, the Echo utilizes Yelp’s database for local service providers, retail and restaurants, as well as reviews in ranking and formulating its responses. As more skills are incorporated into Echo, it will become more and more complex for a business to optimize its profile and standing among all the various sources of information.

The number of skills in Amazon is small, but again, growth is impressive. At the beginning of the year, there were only 130 skills. Today, that number is over 1,000. Amazon doesn’t yet categorize or prioritize skills like other app stores, making them difficult to discover.

The Echo defaults to Bing for any general search query that is not covered by a skill, but that search experience is also relatively poor in its current form. It will be interesting to see if Amazon partners with Bing to improve general search. I assume it would be Bing, because it’s unlikely to be Google.

Voice search is different from keywords in a search box

Google isn’t likely to partner because it is developing a home-based personal assistant of its own, aptly named Google Home. Google clearly has an advantage in its unmatched aptitude and dominance in search. Yet even with its huge index that powers the best search query response on the planet, voice search will create new wrinkles in the process that may level the playing field to some degree.

The way individuals interact through voice search and queries is different from the way they interact with a search box. Because search queries are more conversational in natural language, they tend to be longer, more nuanced and reveal greater intent. For example, a user might type in keywords “a/c repair near me” but might tell a voice assistant, “There’s a burning smell coming from my outside Trane a/c condenser unit.”

It’s also easy to see how queries may no longer be “search-oriented” in the way we define it today but rather jump over search straight into a request for action. For example, instead of searching for pizza restaurants near me, you can now request Alexa (Echo) to order you a Large Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza with mushrooms and extra sauce and have it delivered to your house via the Domino’s Pizza skill.

Likewise, the natural progression for local search for service providers would be appointment-based. Instead of searching for electricians near me, the request might be a request for an appointment with the highest-rated local electrician who is available between noon and 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Both of these scenarios bypass traditional search and the opportunity for competitors to try and attract your attention through paid search ads, high ranking organic listings, or even adjacent listings in general browsing activity.

Amazon Echo’s focus on skills for access to content also will put small businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to brands and franchises that have the scale to invest in developing content for the platform. Brands that have done so include Capital One, Uber, Domino’s, TechCrunch and NBC.

I’ve previously written about how it usually does not make sense for a local business to develop an app, and the same logic applies to Echo skills. However, my suggestion that local businesses optimize their presence on vertical sites that have apps is also a solution here.

For example, Kayak is integrated with the Echo, and users can find flight information, search for hotels and get price quotes for the travel industry. A local bed and breakfast is likely to see much more return by making sure its information on Kayak is comprehensive, accurate and optimized to be referenced within Kayak than by trying to build a skill on its own that would likely never be found or accessed by users of Echo.

Another example of voice search issues to be determined: What will be the SERP equivalent? How deep or how many providers will be mentioned or listed? Another issue: how do you make sure the personal assistant pronounces your name properly? Names can be tricky, and pronunciations that don’t match spellings can lead to your business not being recognized by the user or misidentified.

Future developments

Undoubtedly, other issues unique to voice will crop up, and it’s hard to anticipate what strategies might work best until voice search matures further and we see more data behind how people will utilize the technology. Others are also working on their versions of the technology with Facebook developing a personal assistant called “M” and Apple working on a standalone device for Siri, making it available to third-party developers and adding it to the Mac desktop experience in its next OS update.

However, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem: Just as the platforms are still working on making their service complete, consumers are still figuring out how to ask for what they want. Their queries will change as the services broaden and improve their offerings.

What we do know is that voice search will not mimic the search box. As more and more consumers turn to voice search, marketers will need to figure out how voice search queries and results differ from search engine results and help local businesses navigate the way through being found in results to being found in voice search.

Source:  http://searchengineland.com/voice-search-explosion-will-change-local-search-251776

Categorized in Search Engine

This week saw the publication of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, packed full of data and insights into the development of the internet and digital technology across the globe.

Particularly of interest to us here at Search Engine Watch is a 21-page section on the evolution of voice and natural language as a computing interface, titled ‘Re-Imagining Voice = A New Paradigm in Human-Computer Interaction’.

It looks at trends in recognition accuracy, voice assistants, voice search and sales of devices like the Amazon Echo to build up an accurate picture of how voice interface has progressed over the past few years, and is likely to progress in the future.

So what do we learn from the report and Meeker’s data about the role of voice in internet trends for 2016?

Voice search is growing exponentially

We know that voice is a fast-rising trend in search, as the proliferation of digital assistants and the advances in interpreting natural language queries make voice searching easier and more accurate.

But the figures from Meeker’s report show exactly to what extent voice search has grown over the past eight years, since the launch of the iPhone and Google Voice Search in 2008. Google voice queries have risen more than 35-fold from 2008 to today, according to Google Trends, with “call mom” and “navigate home” being two of the most commonly-used voice commands.

A slide from Meeker's trends report showing the rise in Google Voice Search queries since 2008. The heading reads, "Google Voice Search Queries = Up >35x since 2008 and >7x since 2010, per Google Trends". The graph below it tracks the rise of three terms: "Navigate Home", "Call Mom" and "Call Dad", represented by a red line, a blue line and an aqua line respectively". All three terms have fairly low growth from 2008 to 2013, followed by a rapid rise with several sharp peaks upwards from 2013 to 2016. The 'Call Dad' trend grows the least, with the 'Call Mom' trend rising the fastest, briefly overtaken by 'Navigate Home' in 2015.

Tracking the rise of voice-specific queries such as “call mom”, “call dad” and “navigate home” are an unexpected but surprisingly accurate way to map the growth of voice search and voice commands. As an aside, anyone can track this data for themselves by entering the same terms into Google Trends. It’s interesting to think what the signature voice commands might be for tracking the use of smart home hubs like Amazon Echo in a few years’ time.

Google is, of course, by no means the only search engine experiencing this trend, and the report goes on to illustrate the rise in speech recognition and text to speech usage for the Chinese search engine Baidu. Meeker notes that “typing Chinese on a small cellphone keyboard [is] even more difficult than typing English”, leading to “rapidly growing” usage of voice input across Baidu’s products.

A slide from Meeker's report showing growth in Baidu voice input. The header reads, "Baidu Voice = input growth >4x... Output >26x, since Q2: 14". Below it are two graphs showing upward trends in usage between Q2 of 2014 and Q1 of 2016. The left-hand graph, Baidu Speech Recognition daily usage, has a steady upward climb with a slight plateau between Q2 and Q3 of 2015, followed by a much sharper increase. The right-hand graph, Baidu Text to Speech daily usage, shows a very gradual rise from Q2 in 2014 to Q2 in 2015, followed by a steep rise up to the present day.

Meeker also plots a timeline of key milestones in the growth of voice search since 2014, noting that 10% of Baidu search queries were made by voice in September 2014, that Amazon Echo was the fastest-selling speaker in 2015, and that Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, has predicted that by 2020 50% of all searches will be made with either images or speech.

While developments in image search haven’t been making as much of a splash as developments with voice, it shouldn’t be overlooked, as the technology that will let us ‘search’ objects in the physical world is coming on in leaps and bounds. In April, Bing implemented an update to its iOS app allowing users to search the web with photos from their phone camera, although the feature is limited to users in the United States, as they’re the only ones who can download the app.

The visual search app CamFind, which has been around since 2013, also has an uncanny ability to identify objects in the physical world and call up product listings, which has a huge amount of potential for both search and marketing.

Why do people use voice?

The increase in voice search and voice commands is not only due to improved technology; the most advanced technology in the world still wouldn’t see widespread adoption if it wasn’t useful. So what are voice input adopters (at least in the United States) using it to do?

The most common setting for using voice input is the home, which explains the popularity of voice-controlled smart home hubs like Amazon Echo. In second place is the car, which tallies up with the most popular motivation for using voice input: “Useful when hands/vision occupied”.

30% of respondents found voice input faster than using text, which also makes sense – Meeker observes elsewhere in the report that humans can speak almost 4 times as quickly as they can type, at an average of 150 words per minute (spoken) versus 40 words per minute (typed). While this has always been the case, the ability of technology to accurately parse those words and quickly deliver a response is what is really beginning to make voice input faster and more convenient than text.

As Andrew Ng said, in a quote that is reproduced on page 117 of the report, “No one wants to wait 10 seconds for a response. Accuracy, followed by latency, are the two key metrics for a production speech system…”

The third-most popular reason for using voice input, “Difficulty typing on certain devices”, is a reminder of the important role that voice has always played, and continues to play, in making technology more accessible. The least popular setting for using voice input is at work, which could be due to the difficulty in picking out an individual user’s voice in a work environment, or due to a social reluctance to talk to a device in front of colleagues.

Meeker’s report also looks into the usage of one digital assistant in particular: Hound, an assistant app developed by the audio recognition company SoundHound, and which was also recently used to add voice search capabilities to SoundHound’s music search engine of the same name.

What’s interesting about the usage breakdown for Hound, at least among the four fairly broad categories that the report divides it into, is that no one use type dominates overwhelmingly. The most popular use for Hound is ‘general information’, at 30%, above even ‘personal assistant’ (which is what Hound was designed to do) at 27%.

Put together with the percentage of queries for ‘local information’, more than half of voice queries to Hound are information queries, suggesting that many users still see voice primarily as a gateway into search. It would be interesting to see similar graphs for usage of Siri, Cortana and Google’s assistants to determine whether this trend is borne out across the board.

A tipping point for voice?

Towards the end of the section, Meeker looks at the evolution and ownership of the Amazon Echo, which as a device which was specifically designed to be used with voice (as opposed to smartphones which had voice capabilities integrated into them) is perhaps the most useful product case study for the adoption of voice commands.

Meeker notes on one slide that computing industry inflection points are “typically only obvious with hindsight”. On the next, she juxtaposes the peak of iPhone sales in 2015 and the beginning of their estimated decline in 2016 with the take-off of Amazon Echo sales in the same period, seeming to suggest that one caused the other, or that one device is giving way to the other for dominance of the smart device market.

I’m not sure if I would agree that the Amazon Echo is taking over from the iPhone (or from smartphones), since they’re fundamentally different devices: one is designed to be home-bound, the other portable; one is visual and the other is not; and as I pointed out above, the Amazon Echo is designed to work exclusively with voice, while the iPhone simply has voice capabilities.

But it is interesting to view the trend as part of a shift in the computing market towards a different type of technology: an ‘always-on’, Internet of Things-connected device specifically designed to work with voice, and perhaps that’s the point that Meeker is making here.

Meeker points to the fast movement of third-party developers to build platforms which integrate the Alexa voice assistant into different devices as evidence of the expansion of “voice as computing interface”. While I think we will always depend on a visual interface for many things, this could be the beginning of a tipping point where voice commands take over from buttons and text as the primary input method for most devices and machines.

Hopefully Meeker will revisit this topic in subsequent trends reports so that we can see how things play out over the next few years.

Source:  https://searchenginewatch.com/2016/06/03/what-does-meekers-internet-trends-report-tell-us-about-voice-search/

Categorized in Online Research
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