Goodbye Actions. Hello useful voice systems.

The word is out, Google is sunsetting Conversational Actions on June 13th 2023. I fully understand Google’s choice as the current setup didn’t get the user traction it deserved. As a developer of several actions myself and as an experienced user I learned that it was hard to get buckled up for the actual core of a Google action without losing users during the conversation.

When I was working for Rabobank, a user first needs to set up a connection with his or her account. This step already caused many users to not join this channel as an updated smartphone with the Google Assistant app was needed. But even if installed it still took a lot of effort to connect with a dual-factor authentication system (Rabo Scanner) to access the information users wanted to request (their balance). Another step to bale out was the privacy consent, many users didn’t and still don’t trust big external parties with their financial data.

Also for my private projects like the 7 minutes workout action, I found that it was easier to have this video added to Youtube and ask for it to Google to play it using Youtube than to ask for the action itself.

The technology was just not ready for all these use cases. I found myself quickly irritated when Google Home misinterpreted the question or command I give. Also, waiting for the same (too long and slow) response when it gave me a wrong answer. However, I still think voice technology can add value to people’s lives.

Use cases I personally love to use in my home are: asking till what time a shop is open, playing music, asking for latest news, activating the lights for a certain setting, asking for the kids how animals or music instruments sound.

Other use cases I wished I could use it more often are when I am driving in my car. Can you imagine asking: “Can you navigate to a gasoline pump on our route?” or “Next song please?” or “When is the next drive-through restaurant on my route?”. But then answering your request in a correct way…

However, I disabled all voice assistants at the moment because of too many false positives in triggering the assistants or in the case of the car-based voice system: it just doesn’t understand. So, let’s focus on creating great usable web content (as mentioned here) and let’s try this technology after a few years again 🙂

Voice & search

Just a short update on my current position at bol.com.

Finding exactly what a user wants is hard. Even when you have visual clues available. In the past, I experimented with voice applications. In these customer journeys, I thought the biggest problem was with the availability of interface elements, a user can basically say everything to the voice interface. In the visual world, you can compare this to a user who can draw his own filtering and sorting interface. If you don’t exactly know what you are looking for and how things are called at the information-providing end you probably won’t find what you were looking for.

So my focus in information retrieval is currently shifted from voice to visual search at bol.com. It is still incredibly hard to understand users. The many features are made to help users find what they need and still people are creative enough to end up finding things they didn’t expected.