Conversation as a Medium: The Next Frontier in User Experience

When it comes to tech’s next frontier, conversation as a medium of innovative user experience is at the forefront. The foremost example of this comes in the form of heavily adopted voice assistants. Jason Douglas, Product Management Director – Actions on Google at Google, recently discussed the timeliness of advances in speech recognition, natural language understanding, and machine learning at a keynote presentation at SMX West. According to Douglas, these innovations open up a new realm of possibility when it comes to conversation-based technology. The rise of Google Assistant and other voice activated search options will soon make the way marketers reach consumers and the challenges surrounding proper opt-in of those consumers – look very different.

Optimizing Conversational Tone for User Experience

Google launched the first version of Google Assistant for Google Home this past December.  Douglas further explained, “Conversation is a very new medium. We want to help developers succeed in building experience with this medium.”

The new Google Assistant is “a conversational experience between you and Google to help you get things done in your world.” Google plans to elevate the user search experience away from the norm of typing into a text box, to engaging in a natural flow of conversation with your voice assistant. Not only does Google Assistant focus on conversational tone, it is programmed to understand a user’s context, including location and needs, to offer the best user experience possible.

Opting-In Provides Context, but Does it Protect Privacy?

Context is especially important, as it allows voice assistants to not only understand your needs but to get things done efficiently. For example, if you’re in San Jose, your Google Assistant should know if you live there or are just visiting. Based on that, it can help you find transportation, restaurants, parks and more. Yet the Google Assistant goes even further. In addition to completing tasks like placing a grocery order or making a dinner reservation, your voice assistant has the capability to remember where you parked your car, and extends across devices from your Google Home to your phone, watch and car, streamlining your daily routine.

As technologies like the Google Assistant advance, it’s important to note that context data points made available to bots will need to be opt-in. While many people will choose to opt-in to providing their voice assistants with personal information in exchange for convenience, the fact remains that balancing this with privacy is a challenge, even for companies like Google who have been navigating this trade-off for years.

What a Conversational Medium Means for Marketers

New technology that makes our lives easier is always exciting, but there are bigger implications for adopting conversation as a medium that directly impacts search. We currently live in a search-driven economy, and examining the relationship between search and human-like interactions with bots is crucial to understanding how we can improve the functionality and overall user experience of voice activated search. With rising technologies like Google Assistant and Alexa, conducting a search with voice assistants is on track to become the new norm – something all SEOs and search engine marketers should take note of.

Right now, Google says it is focused on perfecting user experience for Google Assistant, but a conversation about how ads will be incorporated into this model is not far down the line. While Douglas insists Google’s top priority is making their voice assistant user-friendly and focusing on machine learning’s ability to translate colloquial language, he admits that transactions and monetization are things that need to be considered. Along with ads and transactional experience, new concerns about user privacy are likely to arise as companies start to offer purchase options via voice authorization.

Ultimately, conversation as a medium for user experience is the way of the future, and Google Assistant is just the beginning. As companies like Google use machine learning to allow voice assistants to gain a common understanding of the world, similar to humans, the more natural conversation with bots will be incorporated into the way we move through day-to-day life. This continued refinement means that as they continue to delight consumers they will also need to maintain stringent privacy policies – though how they’ll accomplish that is yet to be seen.