Apple Buying Siri: Will Search Agents Replace Search Engines?

Apple's recent acquisition of Siri-- developers of the Virtual Personal Assistant -- shows they are interested in the mobile search space. Siri sees this "new interaction paradigm" as how many people will get their information in the future.

We'll start using search agents -- our own little platforms that seek out information based on our preferences and other accessible information specific to us. Google uses some of this if you do searches when signed in to your account -- they have started to add possible answers from those you follow in Buzz.

Siri offers much more and the move in this direction is growing. Part of the greater development in this area can be attributed to use of cloud technology, the other is the rapid growth of mobile devise usage and the increased speed the devices now have. This has been projected as getting even faster over the next couple of years (see chart below).

The Second Wave: Mobile Bandwidth

The cloud has become our new data center and it holds much more than just our e-mail -- photos, music and videos are now hosted off our computers, as well as calendars and other business apps. The new search agents can take advantage of this and develop rapid responses to particular needs. We've already started using our phones to find restaurants and other many location based queries, and we like this way of finding things.

As Tom Gruber, CTO and co-founder of Siri, pointed out, smart computers understand you in your language, make sense of your environment, help you solve everyday problems, and can be at your service everywhere. They operate by interacting with the human senses. Touch screens, sound in and out, cameras, the ability to sense where we are -- these are all available in our smartphones.

Combining this technology with search will bypass many of the needs now met by a search engine -- the relatively static library of information. We're developing a new ecosystem of APIs and online data, Gruber noted.

Brining the Big Think to the Small Screen

Google is developing a bunch of APIs to take advantage of this new technology and in some cases they're proving helpful. We'll have to wait and see if they adapt a proactive approach, but products like Google Goggles are using the technology that will provide the backbone of this new method of information retrieval.

"Siri is an intelligent software agent designed to have a back-and-forth conversational interaction with you as it helps you get tasks done. The three main technical components behind Siri's differentiation correspond to the essential qualities of an assistant: a conversational interface, personal context awareness, and service delegation," the website explains.

We'll use these search agents in so many ways -- imagine you have five people wanting to get together for a lunch meeting, you allow the agents to interact and they can find a place based on group taste preferences, location to make travel easy for everyone, at a time that works for all, then make the reservation and notify everyone's calendars.

How many searches are done on mobile devices now that relate to the location of the searcher? Siri recognizes this and gives options in categories that the user has set up as a starting point.

From their website: "An assistant can reason about what specific set of resources or services would best be combined to help you accomplish a particular task. Siri's patented service delegation algorithms combine numerous attributes about each service provider, including quality scores, fine-grained ratings for specific capabilities, speed measures, and geographic constraints, to plan and execute an optimized strategy for handling your request. Live data is pulled fresh from source sites and world-changing actions are handled in a transaction-safe manner."

The time is coming where we will each have our own Ms. Dewey to interact with the online world and gather information for us while we go about doing other things.

Will this be a Google killer? Probably not, but it will change how many searches get done using the current search engines and thus impact advertising revenues for that model.

Siri was selected as the "Most Innovative Web Technology" at SXSW this year. Similar moves in technology and the rapid growth of smart phone usage is changing how we access the web and what we use when we get there.

Mobile search may not be the realm for our current search engines and new technologies yet to be launched may soon be changing what we use to gather our information. Bing's branding as the decision engine is a smart play in this changing approach; how the rest meet it will be worth watching out for.

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.