October 9, 2010

Google’s GOOG-411 service shutting down, what took it so long?

Per Google, the 800-GOOG-411 service is shutting down. What took it so long?

A better analysis of market and trends in 2007 (the service started in 2007) would have indicated that this service should never have been started.

Voice recognition has always been a good research project but a bad business. Voice services have always suffered from multiple major flaws due to which they never took off.

1. Voice recognition does not work – as in does not work 100% of the time. In fact under different environmental conditions and for different applications, the success rate is probably less than 10%.

Would you use Google Search if it gave garbage results 90% of the time? Think the same about a voice service.

2. Voice interaction times are too long – the system says something, then the user says something, then the system echoes what the user said, user confirms, system performs the action. The shortest interaction can be of the order of seconds or 10’s of seconds. Compare that with Google Instant, which reacts in a fraction of a second, the human reaction time – that is what is needed and voice services cannot provide that.
And, the above times are when the system works perfectly. Most of the time, the system ‘hears’ wrong, so it keeps the user looping on the first 3 steps creating frustration.

3. Use cases are limited – compared with the ability to visually interact with information all the time (on Smartphones, iPad, PC’s etc) where the interactions are very satisfying for the user, voice services with its multiple flaws have limited use.  They fall short in 411-type of services or as automated attendants (where touch tone menus are replaced by automated voice menus, both equally bad) or for automated telemarketing services (which create a strong backlash from users).

One valid use case is for sight-impaired users where voice services are helpful. But even there, the technological flaws of voice services make for very frustrated users.

4. There is no business case – People do not want to pay for a service that does not work and are not even willing to use it even if it is free. 

Google’s voice team is now optimistically pinning their hopes on providing “more ambitious voice services – voice search, voice input and voice actions on Smartphones, voice recognition in multiple languages and more”. However, these projects should also be shut down. It is just throwing more ‘good money after bad’. Over time, these projects will also come to the same conclusion as GOOG-411 i.e. there is no need for these voice services.