I was over the moon to have been quoted in a Forbes article about Facebook’s voice assistant and thought it would be helpful to share the full context of what I was saying regarding what’s missing in voice and whether Facebook might be trying to fill a gap. And whether they have the chops to do so.

Facebook confirmed that its working on a voice assistant a few weeks back, though it’s still unsure whether it’ll be a true assistant or whether it’ll be a front-end to its Portal and Oculus hardware.

So do users trust Facebook enough for its voice assistant to be successful?

Most people in the voice industry would dismiss Facebook and its efforts to cobble together a voice assistant. Not because of a lack of technical expertise to build it, or design expertise to create it, but because of its potential to market. Or lack thereof.

We suspect that Facebook’s Portal isn’t selling particularly well and there have been barrels of privacy issues in recent years that haven’t helped user confidence in the company.

Whatever you think about Facebook, though, there is something missing in voice. And Facebook might have the experience and skills to bring it about.

Before we look at what’s missing, it’s worth taking a look at what we have and the positioning of the existing voice assistants.

Current voice assistant market positioning

Google Assistant: search

Google Assistant has an angle on search: finding information, local businesses and such. Then, for some, managing your personal stuff through gmail, calendars etc. I know it’s trying to branch out into the smart home space with the rebrand of Google Home to Google Nest, but search is its primary value proposition given the DNA of the company.

Amazon Alexa: shopping

Amazon has an angle on shopping. Alexa is broader than that, obviously. But, over time, with in-skill purchases now available internationally,Amazon Pay and all these devices linked to your Amazon account, shopping on Alexa is likely to be the most frictionless experience and will be the driving force of Alexa given Amazon’s DNA.

Apple Siri: Apple ecosystem

Apple have the whole Apple ecosystem. They’ve been great at keeping people locked into that. It’s a huge effort to switch. If they can extend Siri beyond shortcuts and basic commands, then their angle will be to be the main voice assistant for all Apple users.

That’ll include managing personal stuff like email, getting stuff done through shortcuts and also paid commerce through Apple Pay, as we’ve seen with the soft launch of Apple Pay through iMessage.

Whereas Amazon has the Alexa everywhere strategy and is allowing manufacturers to put Alexa in everything from washing machines to cars, Apple, given its history of a strong hardware/software relationship, Apple will likely keep Siri locked into Apple devices only, making it the default assistant for Apple fans.

Samsung: home

Samsung has an angle on the home. Your washing machine, your microwave, your phone, your TV, your whole home could be synced with Bixby over time.

It’s not at that point yet, and it has plenty of competition from the others, but with a commitment to put Bixby in everything it ships by 2020, don’t be surprised to see Samsung focus on the home.

Microsoft Cortana: work

Microsoft recently claimed that Alexa and Google Assistant aren’t competition for Cortana and that all voice assistants can play nicely together. That’s because Cortana’s core position is to be the voice assistant of the workplace. Helping you manage your calendars and tasks and find files etc. With the vast market share Microsoft has in the enterprise, it’s in a great position to do just that.

So what’s missing in voice assistants today?

The one things that’s missing in voice right now is social.

I was recently quoted in Forbes with:

“And who better to create a social-first voice assistant than the company who’s been bossing social since 2006. Like it or not. We’re using a Facebook owned product right now in what’s app. Instagram is probably the second biggest social network behind the actual Facebook platform. Facebook understand social better than any other company on the planet.”

Kane Simms, VUX World

Will social voice work?

A few companies have been trying to crack social voice and none have been wildly successful so far.

Anchor started out as an audio based social network. But then it pivoted to podcasting when it realised that social audio is difficult.

Soundbite had a go at voice first messaging, but now it’s pivoted to voice in VR as they found it a challenge too.

Still trying to make social voice work

Then you’ve got things like Hear Me Out and SoundBranch and others that’re trying to bridge the voice and social gap.

Dan Gonzalez, Founder of SoundBite, who told us on the VUX World podcast that, the problem with those types of voice social networks is that you need to give each audio recording a title and, in some cases, a description and tags.

By the time you’ve done that, you’ve already described what’s in the audio. And if I can get the gist of what’s in the audio by reading the description and tags, that removes the need for the audio at all.

Buzzz.it is also trying to crack the social voice game too through using blockchain.

Maybe that will change things, but until now, most social voice efforts have struggled.

Social is more than messaging

All of these examples so far have been primarily focused on social voice as a messaging platform. But social is more than messaging.

It’s a) user-generated content and b) the ability to share that content from one to another to another to another.

That’s what’s missing in voice.

I’m not saying voice needs that or that it would be better if it did. I’m not saying we should transfer our mental model of social and mobile to voice. But, right now, users can’t generate their own content and we can’t share it with others.

Could Facebook crack voice-generated content and sharing?

Maybe this could be the thing Facebook is trying to crack. Or the thing it could crack.

Don’t forget, there was a time before ‘tagging’ someone in a post was possible. A time before the hash tag. We haven’t seen the new things that voice could bring.

Is Facebook the right company to innovate in voice?

The real question is whether Facebook has the chops to innovate in voice. It’s struggled with privacy, as we know. Lost trust with many. And the acquisitions it made to stay relevant haven’t innovated that much either.

What’s App has pretty much stayed static, Instagram copied its recent features from Snapchat. However, they’re both still widely used, as is the core Facebook product.

There are certainly challenges bringing the concepts of social to voice, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable. And if any company stands a chance of cracking it, it’s Facebook. That is, if it decides to build a social assistant, as opposed to a voice front end to its hardware.

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