Voice Con 2020 Berlin

Voice Con 2020 Berlin

Voice Con 2020 Berlin

Please join us for all the fantastic talks at VoiceCon 2020 this year. We’re looking forward to great sessions like Ralf Eggert’s Alexa, what’s next?, Dr. Christoph Esslinger’s The Age of Assistants – Will you add a new one?, Nara Kasbergen’s Empathy as a Service: Supporting Mental Health in the Tech Workplace and many, many more… We will do our best to keep up by leading the Wednesday morning session Making the Go/ No-Go Decision.

The conference is entirely virtual this year, which means that you can easily still register and attend. You can get register here through early December.

Voice Con 2020 December 9 – 11 2020 Berlin local time (GMT +1)

Posted in Alexa, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Voice Assistant

AVAILABLE NOW Voice UX Design – Tackling the Discoverability Issue

AVAILABLE NOW  Voice UX Design – Tackling the Discoverability Issue

We just released our latest book on Voice Assistants — Voice UX Design: Tackling the Discoverability Issue — which focuses on what we as developers can do to improve on the user experience in Voice.

We start out with the fundamental challenge facing all stand alone Voice interfaces, i.e. that we lack the visual information channel when a picture is worth a thousand words. How do we compensate for an audio only interface? How do we efficiently convey information in a linear, information sparse format?

Then we move onto user expectations aka “The Jarvis Problem.” Our users are familiar with Voice interfaces from science fiction. They have expectations which do not correspond to the current realities of the accuracy of Natural Language Parsing (NLP). How do we deliver compelling experiences that play to the mediums strengths while respecting user expectations? How do we train users on how to make best use of an audio only interface? How do we compensate for NLP’s challenges with accuracy and context?

Next we get into the discoverability issue which is essentially teaching users how to navigate a user interface when they have no understanding of where to find specific kinds of information. We describe the work that went into building the modern (visual) website, including the user  training and expectation. How did the web development community reach consensus on elements like the Navigation bar and Search buttons? What can we apply from those lessons to make the Voice experience more seamless?  Then we talk about all the visual navigation design elements that are currently lacking in Voice interfaces. How do we create a Voice UX toolkit? How to we bring the options into alignment with user expectation?

Finally we review several different approaches — notably relying on the Method of Loci  — to provide a shared navigation between users and developers. We describe in detail for use cases that are in production and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Then we talk about what is missing from the Voice Developer’s UX toolkit, drawing specific parallels to the Visual UX Toolkit to highlight opportunities and unmet needs.

Please get your copy of Voice UX Design: Tackling the Discoverability Issue today.

Posted in Alexa, Amazon, Echo, Google, Google Assistant, Google Home, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Voice Assistant

Voice Con 2020: Will You Be There?

Voice Con 2020: Will You Be There?

We’re putting the finishing touches on the slide presentation and rehearsing for our talk Making the Go/ No-Go Decision for this year’s Voice Con. You can still register and attend virtually. You’re welcome to submit questions via the conference organizers even if you cannot attend virtually.

Will you be there? What are you excited about? How are you getting ready for Voice Con 2020?

Making the Go/ No-Go Decision Voice Con 2020 (Berlin)
Posted in Uncategorized

Will Improvement in Voice Technology Eliminate the Need for Voice UX Design?

Will Improvements in Voice Technology Eliminate the Need for Voice UX Design?

With our book Voice UX Design, we are aiming to avoid the standard, party-line approach to usability in Voice, which — frankly speaking — doesn’t work. Software programmers are continually encouraged to write software that “allows human beings to speak naturally” to a computer. The reality is that these systems do not yet have the requisite transcription accuracy, contextual parsing, or defined logic responses to be successful. It is well beyond spec, at least for now, and so we need to develop the Voice UX toolkit to meet user needs.

TLDR: Over the long term, linguistic models will improve along three dependent trajectories: transcription accuracy, context parsing accuracy, and digital response accuracy. Yet these improvements will not address the need for discoverability and usability. We will still need to employ tools like Method of Loci (MoL), the Beep, etc. to address these user needs in the short and long term.  

The first trajectory, accurate transcription, is about better speech recognition. Google and Amazon are continually improving transcription accuracy, but a 1:20 or 1:10 error rate  — due to a dirty soundscape, colloquialism, accent, syntax, etc. – means we as programmers need to include a confirmation step for irrevocable or high risk interactions. We are not going conduct a financial transaction, for example, without a confirmation, because we know the error rate is too high. Plus we have found that errors tend to repeat. The system will misinterpret the same word or phrase again and again. We use MoL as a way of enforcing a context. We can weave the confirmation into the structure (see “Take a step forward to confirm” dialog below here).

The second trajectory is context parsing modeling, i.e. the capacity to perfectly parse accurate transcriptions into appropriate data structures. We usually point to IBM Watson as an example of the effective semantic analysis of human speech. The issue is that the system requires a fleet of engineers and linguistic specialists to optimize the digital output. Before software programmers (generalists) can use that capacity, they need for the specialists to distill their jockeying into rules algorithms. Right now we don’t have is a way to make this parsing usable to non-specialists.

The third trajectory is about encoding the correct response to accurately transcripted and accurately parsed user intent. Just because you are certain of users’ intent, your digital system still needs to know how to respond. Human language is incredibliy complex. Accurate transcription is orders of magnitude less difficult than accurate parsing which is orders of magnitude less difficult than building algorithms that can respond appropriately.

Google has indexed the world, run analytics on nearly 20 years of textual queries and has Google Assistant running on a half billion devices, yet the collection of algorithms needed  to provide appropriate responses remains elusive. Imagine any dialog between Iron Man and his digital assistant, Jarvis. Assume perfect transcription and perfect parsing. What sort of API or logic could you implement to derive Jarvis’s response from that input. You’d need a team of linguistic specialists to make some headway in narrow information domains. But it isn’t accessible to most programmers. They need innovative solutions to get to A, B and C. And even with those innovations in place, they may still need to serve users who need help understanding where to find content and how to access it. And in the interim, programmers will need a fully developed Voice UX Toolkit to enable users to use Voice systems effectively.



Posted in Alexa, Amazon, Analytics, Google, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Voice Assistant

Hands-Free Just Got A Bit Easier With Google Assistant

Hands-Free Just Got A Bit Easier With Google Assistant

In the latest step towards a “Hands Free” existance, Google has enabled users of Google Assistant to send and receive short audio clips. The idea is to record and send a quick voice note to friends or loved ones when typing a message would sap focus.

The release is currently limited to Google Assistant for English speakers, a sizeable fraction of the more than half billion users worldwide. Users simply say “Hey Google, send an audio message” to begin the process.

Google does limit users to sending messages to established Google contacts. It’s a nice an incentive to migrate your contacts to Google that may consequently confer some protections against spamming strangers. Not friends and family, though.

What do you think? How long will it be before we read headlines about someone inadvertently revealing an affair through an errant Google Assistant audio clip? How much will the new functionality further concerns about personal privacy and corporate stalking?

For more information

Posted in Google, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Uncategorized, Voice Assistant

EU Regulators Probing Voice Assistants for Anti-Trust Violations

EU Flags at the European Commission Building

EU Regulators Probing Voice Assistants for Anti-Trust Violations

The European Commission (EC) — the governmental body charged with regulating competition — is seeking information from 400 companies operating in Europe on the competitive practices within the Voice Assistant industry. Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Alphabet’s Google Assistant are among the most popular voice assistant devices.

Previously the EC has fined steeply companies in the software, finance and healthcare industries steep for anti-competitive practices. Notably it fine Microsoft more than one billion Euros for its practices around its operating system. European law gives the EC the power to fine companies up to 10% of their total global revenues.

At issue in the probe is the enormous amount of user data collected by “internet of things” devices. Such information could be used to stifle competition or undermine market rivals.

In recent years European Competition Commission Margrethe Vestager has focused on enforcing anti-trust laws within the tech industry. “It sends an important message to powerful operators in these market that we are watching them and that they need to do business in line with competition rules,” Vestager told a news conference. She has brought charges against Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized

Voice Information Density & Accessibility

Voice Information Density & Accessibility

Visual User Interfaces (VUI) are information dense. They allow users to skip ahead or scan for keywords. They provide pictures that are — as the saying goes — worth a thousand words. In this sense, VUI has an advantage over Voice User Interfaces. Voice is a linear stream of information. Users lack the option to scan or skip ahead in the stream like they could with VUI. They are (mostly) forced to consume the entire stream of before taking action. As mediums go, Voice lacks the information density and accessibility of visual interfaces.

Voice information density and accessibility is a long-standing Voice first problem. At TsaTsaTzu we essentially use the Method of Loci (MoL) and other Voice UX tools to boost the information density and digestibility of Voice. We impose information hierarchies through classification structures (rooms) that can be explored.

For example, you might organize a hypothetical Cat Trivia voice app into subheadings like Abilities, Personalities, Companions, etc. You turn your classifications into separate rooms — geographies  — within the MoL approach. Then you inform your users about what kinds of content is accessible. You let them walk from room to room, exploring the options. What to learn about cats that can safely bond with dogs? Visit the Companions room. Or you could create a room to be a site map  — say an elevator or transporter room — to move users between distant rooms. In these ways you make the organization of content tangible, into a representation that is richer and more accessible than other approaches.


Posted in Alexa, Analytics, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Voice Assistant

Are Your Voice Apps Thriving? You’re Not Alone

Are Your Voice Apps Thriving? You’re Not Alone

Lately we’ve seen a distinct uptick in Voice. Our apps are reporting increases in usage across the board. We’re fielding more requests for Voice development. Our current Voice development projects have accelerated as clients want to join the “hands-free” bandwagon. Smarthome conversions have taken on a renewed urgency.

In fact Voice is thriving in the Covid-19 lockdown because of fears of contagion. Everyday objects have become potential disease vectors: door handles, remote controls, light switches, keyboards, computer mice, etc. Even existing accommodations — like the control panel of a remote controlled door — are being reconsidered. In commercial as well as residential settings whatever can be made hands free is under consideration.

But besides the Smart Home/Internet of Things (IoT) boost, we’re also seeing effects stemming from people sheltering in place. More shopping is being done online and with Voice. More questions are being answered with Voice. More Voice applications are being tried out as tools to manage changing demands at work and at home.

It’s a good time to be in Voice.

Posted in Uncategorized

Report: Voice Assistant Usage Rates Double By 2024

Smart Speaker Market Share Aug 2020 T4 Reports

Updated October 2020

Report: Voice Assistant Usage Rates Double By 2024

With the onset of the COVID lockdown in the United States and elsewhere, we are expecting consumers to spend more time at home alone with their devices. We’ve already documented an uptick in usage of our most popular Voice solutions. Juniper Research is now projecting voice usage to double in four years, from 4.2 billion (with a “b”) utterances per year now to 8.4 billion (again with a “b”) by 2024.

That’s a CAGR of nearly 19%.

We have clocked up nearly ten million utterances on our public Voice applications over the years. Most of those involve voice searches for information, products or services. We also (mostly) avoid the trap of being locked into a single platform, as our applications run on either Amazon Alexa’s 50 million unit installed devices or half billion Google Assistant enabled phones.

Straddling the two main Voice Assistant platforms means we are better able to address consumer demand for continuous access across all devices. Or more practically, we rely on users’ phones to be content conduits. It is easier to keep track of a single phone than to track a given user across rooms or geographies. Unless we see industry-wide agreement upon standards for a universal virtual voice assistant, we’re relying on software that works on either platform.


Posted in Alexa, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Uncategorized, Voice Assistant

Juniper Report: Voice Development Opportunities

Juniper Report: Voice Development Opportunities

Today’s Juniper Research report makes mention of two big growth areas for software developers focusing on Voice Assistants. It suggests that the bulk of the growth will be in the area of TV connected devices. Half of all such connected devices are expected to be put to use by consumers over that time frame. Most of these manufacturers will lack the requisite Voice development experience in house. This trend represents an opportunity for independent developers.

The second growth area involves retailers and manufacturers efforts to make shopping for their products easier. Right now the retailers are rolling out applications on the two main platforms to ensure adequate market coverage. The manufacturers have a more difficult position if they would like to build a voice assistant into their devices. They have to choose a platform — commit to an ecosystem — far in advance of reaching markets. They are also limiting device interoperability as the platforms currently do not play nicely with each other.

Which platform should you invest in? Here is how Juniper describes their relative strengths:

  • Alexa is good at shopping.
  • Google Assistant specializes in knowledge.
  • Siri owns the iPhone.




Posted in Alexa, Google Assistant, IT Solutions, Management Consulting, Uncategorized, Voice Assistant