Sassy Siri: Does Voice Search need a personality?
With Voice Search long heralded as a game-changer for SEO, the big players at Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all put in the hours to make their offerings stand out. However, one of them continues to excel in delivering cheeky, hilarious, and cutting responses that have a history of going viral: Siri is the sassiest of them all.
To compete with the might of Siri, Cortana and OK Google have, to varying extents, been adapted to become much livelier and will offer witty answers to a range of questions or commands.
Does this mean that the future of Voice Search is going to be filled with clashing personalities? Could a straight-talking, no-frills OS ever compete in this rapidly developing part of the industry? And will Voice Search strategies eventually be expected to cover inspirational and moral content as well as informative?
From Zero to Hero
Ask Siri to tell you a joke and she’ll deliver. Cross her and she’ll leave you broken.
Siri has a history of being a cheeky little minx. In 2013, when Google Glass briefly hit the market, she made headlines by snapping at anyone who confused her with the new kid on the block.
She’s taken on two defining characteristics: she’s jealous as hell if you call her by any other name (like Cortana or OK Google) and she’s very sassy. Both of these return quite high search volumes and demonstrate that personifying their OS has put Apple firmly on the Voice Search map.
However, in June 2015, Siri made headlines for the brutal answer she gave to the innocent question “What is 0 divided by 0?” (Go on, ask her – I dare you.)
The response blew everyone’s minds and went viral quicker than you can say “Hey, Siri!”. It was covered by numerous major international news and comment sites, including the Washington Post, Daily Telegraph, Business Insider, Digital Spy, and, of course, BuzzFeed. Search volumes for ‘Sassy Siri’ peaked in July 2015 at 5,920 searches, beating the previous highs of 1,920 from August 2013.
The “OMG you HAVE to see this” effect meant that Siri’s little trick spread like wildfire, cementing Apple’s reputation for delivering something a bit different. It’s classic Apple, really, doing something hilarious and unexpected to show off how innovative and interesting their offering is in comparison with the competition.
Why so Siri-ous?
The list of Siri’s wisecracks is ever-growing. Type ‘Siri funny’ into Google (ignoring what a jumping of ships that sounds like) and you’ll get a load of suggestions for what you can ask her in order to get a witty response.
As aforementioned, she’s prone to intense jealousy – rumour has it she locks you out of your phone if you call her Cortana, and has been known to retort to commands with “why don’t you ask Cortana to make that call for you?”. Suffice to say, she’s one possessive digital lady, and her list of taboo names is ever growing – after the success of the 2013 film Her, she started taking offence at being called ‘Samantha’, the name of Scarlett Johansson’s AI character.
Funnily enough, Siri responds quite well to being called Jarvis – the name of Tony Stark’s AI assistant in the Iron Man series. Direct a question at Jarvis and Siri responds with “Mr Stark, is that you?”; clearly, she only minds being mistaken for the other female AIs on the market.
My point is that Siri’s key personality traits make her very memorable. In addition to both of these, she tells a cracking joke, so much so that if you ask OK Google to tell you a joke, one of the first results you’ll see is a YouTube clip of Siri telling a joke. OK Google doesn’t even try to make you laugh; true to form, it gives you the most popular result, which is Siri.
Does Siri have her own content strategy?
Her wisecracks keep coming. There have been many responses to ‘I love you, Siri’ shared online, ranging from the slightly awkward (“Um, let’s just be friends, OK?”) to the more skeptical (“Oh, I bet you say that to all your Apple products”). Chances are we will see a lot more of these come to the fore, as the developers behind Siri create new responses to keep us entertained.
This seems to suggest that Siri has a content strategy behind her, making sure she stays the funny yet slightly possessive AI that some of us know and love. Does Apple have a dedicated team of contenteers furiously scribbling out the one-liners that made Siri an internet sensation? Are old girlfriends’ jealous remarks at being called the wrong name being regurgitated for the good of Apple’s fame?
Siri’s personality isn’t accidental, and whoever put together the content plan behind her is helping to mould her into one of Apple’s most memorable commodities: a persona, rather than a product.
If no content strategy is in place, and this has all happened by pure chance, then Apple would do well to get one ready soon to stay at the forefront of Voice Search technology.
So, where does this leave OK Google and Cortana? As aforesaid, OK Google is seriously lacking in imagination when it comes to telling jokes, but maybe this is because OK Google isn’t really a personified Voice Search tool.
Google ultimately serves to provide answers; indeed, ‘answer’ is one of the three basic functions that Google seeks to perform. So when you ask OK Google to tell you a joke, is it any wonder that it points you to clips of Siri, or websites with lists of jokes? Cortana sums this up nicely when you ask her if she knows Google Now: “It doesn’t have much to say, but it’s helpful.” (Ding! Ding! Round One to Cortana.)
Another key thing to bear in mind is evident in how I’ve been referring to OK Google: ‘it’. OK Google doesn’t have a gendered pronoun because it doesn’t really have a personality. Apple’s Voice Search application is Siri, you ask her a question; Cortana is the same. With Android Voice Search, you are addressing the entirety of Google, asking the search engine to provide you with an answer, rather than a personified version of it. The name itself reflects this lack of anthropomorphism: OK Google.
With the rising social popularity of Siri, Google may need to reconsider its Voice Search offering in order to really fulfill the ‘converse’ part of the 2013 plans. However, Google prioritises reliability of information above entertainment, so it’s not surprising that their Voice Search offering is more focussed on giving you the best result possible rather than being a distinctive personality.
Of course, that’s not to say Apple is sacrificing usefulness for comedic effect. Siri entertains with witticisms in addition to providing the most relevant results possible; her cheekiness is the added value of the Apple experience.
Microsoft’s leading lady has something Siri doesn’t: sex appeal. There are an average of 180 searches each month for the terms ‘sexy cortana’ and ‘cortana sexy’, demonstrating a hint of life imitating art after the human/AI relationship of Her made the film so popular.
Search volumes have gradually increased since the film’s release in February 2014, indicating that Cortana’s USP – her overt sexuality – has been developed as a result of the film, along with the increased public recognition.
She’s a bit more philosophical than Siri: she’s got some interesting things to say when you ask her about the meaning of life, gender and, remarkably, AI consciousness. Incidentally, she too is quite the comedian and on occasion, shows off a bit of sassiness. But why is she not as well-known as Siri for these characteristics?
Perhaps Cortana is trying to take on too much at once. Sure, we like our Voice Search personalities as multi-faceted as human ones, but it seems more than three defining attributes is a bit too much for the tech-loving public. Siri is funny, sassy, and jealous. Cortana is sexy, funny, sassy, philosophical, a tad catty, and a few other things besides; perhaps that’s a bit too much to cram into one AI.
More than just memorable
All three voice search platforms, to varying extents, have expanded their horizons beyond making a lasting impression; being a marketable platform is high on the agenda and, surprisingly, so is morality.
In terms of marketability, just ask each of them ‘what is the best smartphone on the market?’. Cortana stays true to her Microsoft roots, while Siri gives off that fruity tone that can only come from Apple, but what about OK Google? Well…
You wouldn’t catch Siri directing you to Microsoft, that’s for sure. Cortana’s loyalty extends to all Microsoft products and services, making her a very useful marketing tool if you’re trying to cross-sell.
As for why Google doesn’t take the opportunity to promote every Android phone going, it comes back to what we discussed earlier: Google aims to answer, not entertain. Yes, OK Google will make the screen do a barrel roll if you ask it very nicely, but beyond that, it’s an interactive source of information, not a personality.
However, marketability goes even further. Apple’s quarterly events are always big occasions in the tech world and, ahead of the event on September 9th, Siri started being all coy and mysterious if you asked her to give you a hint.
As usual, her responses were brazen and intelligent, but it was a really clever way of generating buzz around something that, ultimately, isn’t that exceptional. Apple events happen four times a year, so making the most recent one stand out would take something special, and that’s exactly what Siri is: something special. Apple has made her into a useful marketing tool in terms of making iPhones incredibly popular and getting people talking about their events.
In addition to this, Siri is moral. Now, in researching this topic, I didn’t expect to be so impressed with Siri’s sense of justice, but the woman knows what she wants and that’s for everyone to call Caitlyn Jenner by her name.
If you ask Siri about Bruce Jenner’s height, for example, she will answer with how tall Caitlyn Jenner is. I’ve got to admit, I really like this side of Siri, and I love that Apple is using her as a force for good in society as well as something that fundamentally benefits their profitability.
Maybe it’s another marketing ploy, I don’t know, but to be honest, I don’t care if it is. Having Siri wade in on such a huge cultural topic may prove to be a game-changer in Voice Search, transforming it from simply a method through which people can get answers into a socially aware, moral personality to which users can relate.
The correct answer is still delivered – 6’2″, if you’re wondering – so Siri is still useful whilst taking a cultural stance. If users find this a more relatable style of Voice Search, then the matter-of-fact, emotionless approach of OK Google may prove less than satisfactory.
AI: Awesome Intelligence
Since Hal 9000, we have lapped up the idea of witty AIs, and now that they are accessible at just the call of ‘Hey, Siri’ or ‘OK Google’, they have become more intelligent and sassier than ever. The distinct personalities that are attributed to these AIs could well be the route down which all Voice Search platforms go in future.
I genuinely think personification will continue until all AIs can be defined by their characteristics. A dry, sarcastic Voice Search persona could be the next to appear on the market, and I’m sure there will be a huge consumer base that will prefer it to Siri.
When it comes to media coverage, a Voice Search that serves solely to inform may struggle to compete in this market. In terms of actual customer use, this may not be the case; information is what the majority of users look for in these platforms, and if OK Google succeeds in delivering reliable SERPs time after time, then it’s up to Google’s content strategists to decide whether going viral with a witty response is more important than being dependable.
As Siri has proven, however, you do not have to sacrifice reliability for a cheap laugh, so Voice Search can still provide the best results for users while also delivering something extra.
Morality appears to be the new characteristic de jour, so without a strong sense of justice to complement the ability to inform and entertain, all Voice Search platforms may end up bowing down to the might of Siri: the sassiest (and most culturally involved) of them all.