Disrupting Search

Scott Francis
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Great blog post on Counternotions (by Kontra) regarding Siri: Is Siri really Apple’s future?

It starts with a little preamble, and then gets into the meat of the article, and what Google Search is:

This is a directed navigation system around The Universal Set — the entirety of the Internet. The user has to essentially tell Google his intent one. word. at. a. time and the search engine progressively filters the universal set with each keyword from billions of “pages” to a much smaller set of documents that are left for the user to select the final answer from.

And Siri’s opportunity:

Siri’s opportunity here to win the hearts and minds of users is to change the rules of the game from relatively rigid, linear and largely decontextualized CLI search towards a much more humane approach where the user declares his intent but doesn’t have to tell Siri how do it every step of the way.

I think the author understands Siri better than Apple does, and they should probably pay him to advise them.

Let’s look at the contrast more closely. Suppose you tell Siri:

“Remind me when I get to the office to make reservations at a restaurant for mom’s birthday and email me the best way to get to her house.”

Siri already knows enough to integrate Contacts, Calendar, GPS, geo-fencing, Maps, traffic, Mail, Yelp and Open Table apps and services to complete the overall task. A CLI search engine like Google’s could complete only some these and only with a lot of keyword and coordination help from the user. Now lets change “a restaurant” above to “a nice Asian restaurant”:

“Remind me when I get to the office to make reservations at a nice Asian restaurant for mom’s birthday and email me the best way to get to her house.”

“Asian” is easy, as any restaurant-related service would make at least a rough attempt to classify eateries by cuisine. But what about “nice”? What does “nice” mean in this context?

Here’s he’s clearly outlined the difference between search and Siri.  And why Siri can be disruptive.  It is also a good primer for how normal people can use Siri – chain together your query into a series of actions that Siri can perform.

He also lays out critical challenges for Siri as we move forward and approach 500 million users of the service.  Siri will have to understand myriad languages, and extremely difficult context in different cultures.  That’s going to be more than tricky.  Take simple examples.  British and American English have often used similar words to mean the opposite.  “Not bad” is quite a compliment from my college roommate from Britain, whereas “Not bad” from an American is killing it with faint praise.

Siri will have to align with data and content partners- and that isn’t going to be trivial to do well.  In a sense, Siri will be blamed for its own, as well as its partners, flaws.

Also, app developers are ready for Siri to be enabled for integration now.  The opportunity to register your app as a delegate for certain types of actions or queries is too good to pass up.  In the BPM world, this could be a game changer for mobile apps.

I don’t normally put too much thought into how Siri might disrupt Search. But this article makes it clear why it has that opportunity – though there are many miles to go before the Siri team at Apple gets to sleep.



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