There’s been a lot of talk in technology and usability circles about whether virtual assistants like Siri and Lexee, to name just two, are the ‘new interface’. But I think there’s an even more fundamental business model question to consider.
The era of search made it possible for consumers to find great content and services on the internet, but it was all about navigation. Search helps consumers get to a place that has the content or services they are looking for (be it a story on the BBC news website or the perfect image on iStockphoto.com) and they consume it there – along with other services, and advertising, that they might not have explicitly searched for. Virtual assistants, like Siri and the many copies that are currently being spawned have the potential to change that. Instead of taking consumers to services, the promise of virtual assistants is that they’ll find relevant services and bring them to the consumer – in isolated bite size chunks rather than all-you-can-eat buffets.
While people who care a lot about the technology and usability squabble over whether Siri works well enough (and at VoxGen we do that a lot!) the real game-changer is not the speech recognition technology or the usability gripes, they’ll get sorted eventually. The big issue is the fundamental change in business model that virtual assistant technology implies for many, many businesses. What impact would it have on your business if consumers only bought the one thing they wanted, rather than other things you up-sold them on? Even more critically, how are you going to make sure it’s your service that the virtual assistant chooses? Forget Search Engine Optimisation, the era of Virtual Assistant Optimisation is upon us.