How Much Control are you Willing to Give to Your (Virtual) Assistant?

Where one placed in search engine results used to be the primary driver of success or failure of commercially focused web teams. If you’re not in the top 5 results listed, instant gratification driven users probably wouldn’t “find” you.

Enter a new search paradigm, using an integrated virtual assistant such as Siri, Alexa, and new to the market Viv. These virtual assistants, as I have written in the past, go beyond search and suggest results based on broader contexts, be it your calendar, your contacts, personal preferences or other parameters. Sure, search engine results and targeted ads in web pages always supported a context through the use of such mechanisms as cookies, but the level of application integration emerging with new assistants, will render most of that moot.

Viv, for example, a new virtual assistant discussed in this week’s Washington Post, does its magic through integration with partner applications. Through under the cover interfaces, requests for action to the Viv assistant will trigger exchanges of information with apps from Uber, Florist One, SeatGuru, Grubhub and others. These interactions obviously include some apps, but exclude all others. In order to truly define a set of results that the virtual assistant can manage, the set of options has to be limited. The option limitation locks the assistant and the assistant’s boss (you) into a very specific and finite set of applications. This is not very different than working with Alexa, as one is “locked” into applications specifically integrated with the Amazon assistant’s capabilities. Or Siri, where only Apple based calendar and contact information come into play. An interesting question then surfaces, will this limitation of locking in options be a factor in curtailing the growth of virtual assistants? Will the true breakthrough occur when there is a complete capability of personalization based on each individual’s consumer habits? Until then, remember, when you are choosing a virtual assistant, you are choosing only a specific suite of applications the assistant is knowledgeable with. If you want to choose and act on your own, go back to a search engine.

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