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Home ยป ‘Voice search’ is nothing but the smartest Furby in the pack

‘Voice search’ is nothing but the smartest Furby in the pack

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  • 5 min read

According to economic theory, the value created by marketers is that they bridge the information gap between supply and demand. For example: I didn’t know about a smartphone with four (!) camera’s until an ad was pierced through my iris at the local train station. Unless you believe we are all homo economici, many marketers are entrusted the task to sell you more sh*t you don’t need — preferrably more than the competition.

Marketers selling marketing are the meta of the ad industry. Accompanying conversational marketing and reputation management on their list of marketing services your company didn’t need is voice search optimization. The sales pitch is the following:


Here is my [carefully constructed rant]:

  • Ten? I have been seeing fifty search results for years, you plebeian Bing n00b.
  • Have you even tried voice search? How much further have you gotten than finding the president of the United States? It couldn’t even tell me the president of East-Timor. Have you even tried buying a bottle of shampoo using only your voice?
  • Don’t you think you want to know the dimensions of your new 3D television before you cram it in your 10 by 10 foot studio? Maybe compare it to other brands? 3D makes you sea-sick anyway.
  • But what about Google sending the voice-search result to the user’s phone. “It’s awareness, man”. Do you even FUCKING UNDERSTAND HOW FUCKING STUPID TALKING TO YOUR VIRTUAL ASSISTANT IS JUST TO OPEN A LINK ON YOUR MOBILE PHONE? Thumb rheumatism maybe?
  • Amazon: “It’s the repeat purchases, man.” DOES IT MATTER IF I USE MY THROAT OR MY THUMBS TO ORDER MY JAR OF NUTELLA?
  • Have you considered there are very few situations where it’s socially acceptable to talk out loud to one of your many devices? I can’t even stand when you’re calling home to tell you’re almost home. Let alone explaining to your phone you meant to buy ‘toner’ and not ‘boner’.
  • Remember when we needed to be ready for bots? For some strange reason we would prefer faking a conversation with a machine over a handily crafted searchable or scannable FAQ. Oh wait 90% of chatbots are botified FAQs because it costs a fucking fortune to build a bot that’s actually a little useful. I made these things in mIRC in 2001. Think voice is different?
  • “Oh wait, let me pause Netflix so my virtual assistant and I can have a Shakespearean conversation” said no one in history, ever.
  • Hi everybody in the workplace, please be quiet, I’m trying to order some ointment for my chlamydia” either.

[/carefully constructed rant]

No seriously. According to research in 2013 men my age spend their week day time as follows (numbers may not add up due to rounding). In bold is time where I can now use voice search where I wouldn’t be able to use other search methods. In italic is where I split time between voice and other methods and striked through is time where I can only use non-sound-producing methods.

  • Work: 5.8 hours
  • Household: 1.5 hours
  • Children: 0.6 hours
  • Personal care: 2.1 hours
  • Sleep: 8.2 hours
  • Education: 0.3 hours
  • Social activities: 0.9 hours
  • Leisure: 3.2 hours
  • Transportation: 1.5 hours
  • Other: 0.1 hours

In other words, there are 5.5 more hours during a week day where I would prefer conventional search methods over voice search, even if it were 100% accurate.

Doesn’t always understand me? check Doesn’t let me compare specs? check Limited monetarisation? check Limited occasions where voice search is socially acceptable? check

No one buys through voice search and those wo do regret it and rather prefer banging their heads on a poisonous cactus.

Finally, yes, it’s free… for now. But remember when Google said “Product Search” was going to be free and then released Google Shopping? When it wouldn’t unify user behavior across its services? When it was not trying to build a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market? When it was no trying to work with the pentagon? When it still lived up to “don’t be evil”. By investing in voice search optimization you are actually making Google’s products better. Nothing guarantees they won’t turn their back on you and start charging your skincare company for being the number one search result when another teenager is looking for acne cream.

I’m a data scientist, I love artificial intelligence. But an important aspect of data science is actually generating value from data. I think voice search does not create value. Voice search are like Furbies: a fad, just a tiny bit smarter.