The technology world has been buzzing about the recent introduction of the iPhone 4S. As a device and platform, it’s sleek, smart, intuitive and accessible to users of all ages. It turns the most complex of tasks into a very elegant and satisfying experience.
A central feature of iOS5 (Apple’s new mobile operating system) on the iPhone 4S is Siri. Siri is voice recognition software, which has been built to function as a digital personal assistant. Ask Siri a question, and “she’ll” answer. Ask Siri to send an email -- done. Ask Siri what the weather’s like, and she’ll return a five-day forecast.
Siri streamlines the process of performing tasks, sourcing and disseminating information. It even responds to questions that traditional search engines can’t answer:
Me: “Is it going to be cold today?
Siri: “No, 37 degrees doesn’t seem all that cold.”
Me: “What sounds good for lunch?”
Siri: “I found 20 restaurants whose reviews mention lunch…16 of them are fairly close to you. I’ve sorted them by rating.”
If the digital revolution (search included) is a long-wave transition, as Gord Hotchkiss so elegantly observed in his Search Insider column last week, then Siri is surely a major ripple. In Siri, we have a glimpse of what the future of search looks like -- a future that should be both exciting and terrifying to search marketers.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of owning a car like Michael Knight’s (played by David Hasselhoff) KITT in the series “Knight Rider.” The car was fast, cool and had built-in artificial intelligence (AI) that functioned as a partner of sorts to Knight as he chased down bad guys.
Being six-years-old at the height of “Knight Rider”’s popularity, you can imagine my excitement over KITT: “You can talk to the car, and it talks back!”
While the show presented a futuristic view of computer AI circa 1984, in the here and now of 2011, the possibilities presented by Siri stir those same emotions. Owners of the new iPhone carry in their pockets much more than a source of information. They carry a friend and confidante.
In fact, the wonder of Siri is bigger than the information that it returns; it’s the connection and the relationship users develop with their “personal assistant.”
People will always search for information, weather, sports scores, opinions, etc. But when those results are delivered in this frictionless and satisfying way, you have something that is very disruptive to the current norm. As Gary Morgenthaler, one of the original VC investors in Siri, expresses it, “a million blue links from Google is worth far less than one correct answer from Siri."
Those of us in the search industry have lived sheltered existences for the past 10+ years. Our industry has grown tremendously, and according to Forrester Research it’s expected to continue to grow at a healthy rate. We’ve been recession-proof, and have long enjoyed being at the forefront of innovation. We’ve been the beneficiaries of the disruptive economic waves that Hotchkiss spoke of.
But what will happen to our industry when technology and innovation make our collective skill sets obsolete?
Eric Schmidt said it himself before a Senate subcommittee investigating Google’s business practices: "Apple has launched an entirely new approach to search technology with Siri…” Schmidt went on to refer to Siri as a “significant development” in search.
Imagine this: Siri users are taken to the point of online transaction when the request being made is commercial in nature. If the experience bypasses the search engine interface itself, what does that mean to PPC advertising?
It means PPC is dead in the water. PPC of course represents the largest of Google’s revenue streams.
Why would advertisers expend time and energy chasing keyword level impressions and clicks, when they can instead pursue transactions? According to Morgenthaler, “corporations don’t want impressions; they want customer transactions.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
The story on the SEO side of the search house isn’t quite as ominous as PPC, despite what others may have you believe. SEOs will find a way to make content and assets accessible to search users, regardless of which “engine” they prefer. Siri-specific optimization will likely become a popular tactic, as Siri currently pulls responses from a variety of online sources like Yelp, Foursquare -- and yes, even Google. This evolution will simply force SEOs to adopt a broader view of “optimization.”
However, the longer-term imperative for search marketers who want to remain relevant, and recession-proof, is grounded in the fundamentals of “search.” We’ll need to think beyond the keyword and inject our expertise as communicators in fluid, real-time seek-and-find digital interactions.
New advertising models will undoubtedly present themselves. The expertise of the search marketing community lies in understanding how to best respond to self-expressed needs and wants.