Apple’s release of iOS 5 and the unveiling of Siri has everyone talking excitedly about the benefits of a digital assistant that can understand natural language. Having seen the demo of what Siri is capable of, though, I cannot help but think of how much better Google’s implementation of a similar service might be. More than that, with the raw data Google has access to, there’s no reason Big G shouldn’t unveil a competing service — and a couple reasons it should.
Google already has the infrastructure glued together at the seams of your interaction with the web. How much work would it be for them to utilize that data? If you look at Google’s history, it hasn’t exactly been amazing in the field of social media. Google Buzz was an absolute flop, and social services like Orkut that Google ran never really got off the ground worldwide. With that being said, the opportunity is there. Google Plus looks pretty close to social media done right (mostly), which might finally mean Google’s ready to break out of the impartial, robotic search space and into something a little more personal.
Let’s take a closer look at the pieces of the Google-Siri puzzle.
The cornerstone of Google’s offering is, of course, search. So ubiquitous that it’s become a verb in common parlance, users “google it” millions of times a day, and those searches help Google as much as they help the user. Google saves searches for 18 months, and what you search for is as critically important to Google as is how you frame the searches. With instant searches and location-based services working on both mobile and normal searches, Google has the capability to save what you’re looking for and where, as well as what you end up clicking on.
This is an incredible advantage from any advertising or sales perspective, as tracking user habits is more or less money in the bank if you can place your product correctly and in a timely fashion. If you’re using your mobile phone to perform the search, all the better; Google knows exactly where you are and what you’re looking for. Who’s in a better position to offer you products and services than a company with that information?
Touched on above, this bears a further mention. Companies like Yelp, Foursquare, Gowalla and others all desperately want to know where you are and what you’re doing in order to offer you targeting advertising and services. It’s said that losing a star in your rating on Yelp can cost a company thousands of dollars in revenue, and extra stars will benefit in the same fashion. With the number of smartphone users exploding worldwide, location-based services should expect the same sort of popularity increase. It’s yet an untapped market.
Enter Latitude; Google’s answer to these services, tied into Google Maps and prominently seen in Google searches. The integration with Maps makes it seamless enough that you might not even know it’s there — you’re just looking for a place to eat. Google knows, though, and it remembers where you’ve been — and you can be sure it’s paying attention to where you’re going, too.
On the face of it, Google Plus doesn’t seem like it would tie into the sort of service being discussed, but you’d be leaving out an incredibly important facet of Google’s growing clout out of the picture: the power of social media and free advertising. Google’s fledgling social media creation has netted some 40 million users at this point, and it’s not a coincidence that Latitude check-ins post to your public Circles by default. The best advertising is free, and as more and more users rank and check in to businesses using Google, everyone wins.
This seems obvious. It doesn’t get any more basic than tracking your purchases viaGoogle Wallet. By itself it might seem an innocuous convenience; an escape from having to carry a bulky wallet. From Google’s perspective, though, it’s filtering your money through their services. It’s another facet of your life that becomes data on a Google server. Marketable data, when correlated with other services.
Again, putting this together with Google’s other services might seem odd. But if you think about how Google improved search to learn from your input, the advantage of having your email available for data mining becomes an invaluable tool. Google can already read enough into a message to say things like “You’ve mentioned something was attached to this email, yet nothing is. Do you want to attach a file?” This means Google is already scanning your email for important words and phrases. Expanding those search terms to include, well, everything, is what Google does best.
Make no mistake. Google isn’t going to use this data to simply catalog what you do, where you go, or what you buy. It’s going to put all of this information together into a big heap and then squeeze it through computations to try and figure out what you’re going to do next.
The real money is in Google as a predictive service. For example, Google Latitude has an option that allows “auto check-in” at any location. That might not seem like much at face value, but it means your phone is obviously keeping track of where it is most of the time. Latitude already knows the location of thousands of businesses, and it has all of the data to know your routine. Knowing that you go to a particular gym three times a week is one thing. Being able to take that data and turn it into specialized deals and incentives are what’s going to separate Google services from the likes of Apple. Google intends to know what we’re going to do before we do, so it can be there to offer us whatever we need, whether it be products, services, or a helping hand.
Think about it from Google’s perspective of “Don’t be evil.” Taking all of this data and turning it into a goldmine of your personal habits will make Google the best possible personal assistant. Everything you’ve ever wanted, as long as you searched for it, Google knows. Everything you’ve purchased, via Google services, Google knows — and it knows when, and where. Things you’ve talked about in your daily dealing with social media or email, Google can parse. Everywhere you go, what route you take, and how long you stay Google will also know.
Apple’s Siri can tell you the weather. It can take dictation to send text messages. It can even setup calendar appointments and configure alerts and reminders. What it can’t do is spin years of search habits, purchases and information into a road-map of where you’re going to go, and react appropriately, effectively ahead of your own wants.
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