Semantic Search, Personal assistants and the Convergence at the Point of Context

When things in the digital space accelerate in their development it’s hard to understand where the overlaps lie or where the connecting lies are. For a marketer things become confusing. For a businessman they become disastrously fragmented. When there are only 24 hours still to a day (until we can relocate to Pluto that is) knowing where to focus attention to get the most traction can make the difference between gaining a competitive advantage and losing sleep, time and money. 

There are currently three areas, all driven by Big Data, that appear to be distinct and which yet are underpinned by some very basic principles. Individually, these three areas are driving innovation across some of the largest players in the tech industry sector: 

1. Contextual Awareness: Context is everything. Being able to find the relevant piece of information you need in relation to what you are doing does not only save valuable time that would be spent specifying tiresome details you have already worked out but it also saves time spent analyzing the deeper context of your actions which you may not have thought about. 

Doing some research on Freddie Mercury, for instance, will bring up the fact that one of his influences was the Bollywood star Lata Mangeshkar. At that point a search on “playback singer” would become tedious if you had to also start drilling down to India, Bollywood and its traditions. What you really want is search to instantly understand the context and serve up all the relevant details without you having to specify anything further. 

Google on Tap (of course) unveiled during the last Google I/O does exactly that:

Google On Tap draws on Google’s Knowledge Graph, of course, and Microsoft, with BING is already there too with Bing Snapshots:

Companies like Google and Microsoft which have, traditionally, led in this space have a natural home-grown advantage but that doesn’t stop other big players with deep pockets from muscling in.  

Apple, for example has recently made a number of purchases that provide it with a lot of the missing components it needs to successfully compete in this area: 

  • It Acquired Spotsetter – a social search engine that uses big data to offer personalized recommendations for places to go.
  • It then bought Topsy - a social media analytics company, which on its own is a strange acquisition to make but makes total sense when combined with Spotsetter.
  • It also bought Locationary - a Canadian Big Data firm which offers a find, splice and merge listing service that crowdsources information and plugs it into its federated data exchange platform named Saturn to constantly validate and update its data. 

On their own these are just the sort of components that create a powerful search engine with predictive capabilities that learns from and serves customer needs. Apple is no stranger to Big Data or machine learning and its splashy AI personal assistant, Siri, has only been limited by the fact that its access to data is not yet on a par with Google and Microsoft. Throw in the new acquisitions, give them time to begin working together and you have a powerful search in place that serves anyone who uses iOS. 

2. Augmented Reality: In Understanding the Future of Digital Marketing I wrote that “Augmented reality uses digital technology to make the real world feel digital…” and this is exactly what Google’s Project Tango does. 

Using an enhanced smartphone it provides a means of digitizing anything real with a view to fusing the two:

Microsoft’s Mobile Fusion uses the computing power of an ordinary smartphone and some fancy algorithms to capture and render a 3D model of any real-life object, right in your smartphone.

3. Personalized assistance: Google Now, Siri, Cortana and now Facebook’s M, a people-supervised AI that exist within Messenger and can actually perform some tasks on a person’s behalf. 

The entire digital personal assistant angle, as a matter of fact, is one that requires Big Data, contextual awareness and intense personalization, in order to work.  

Where the Three become One

Despite the technical granularity that makes each of the trends described above appear a distinct development of a specific technology at the end of the day they are all about the same thing: information retrieval. They all converge at the point where in order to help you get something done they need to understand what it is you want done and why. That’s Context and Intent. 

Context is important because it allows disambiguation in search to occur at a very refined, culturally-defined level which, as it happens, is also one of the core elements of semantic search. 

Augmented reality is nothing more than the mapping of our world and its integration in the digital fact files we have about everything else. If we could, map the entire world and all its objects in it with sufficient clarity that we can then make sense of the store of digitized data we already possess (so that a mapping of the pyramid of Cheops also makes the pyramid of Cheops recognizable in every digital photograph and digitized sketch and drawing we have) we would be able to extract unimagined layers of fresh information. To use my example, imagine being able to compare every picture of the pyramid of Cheops ever taken to track environmental damage, changes in light conditions due to atmospheric pollution and even see the changing desert landscape, around it. And that is just one, poor example of what’s possible. 

Personal assistants are the humanized face of artificial search intelligence. They cannot really do anything for us if they cannot adequately act as search agents and they cannot act as search agents until they can understand the context of our search queries and our intent. 

Marketing Simplified

Despite the complexity of the technology that’s being employed from a purely marketing point of view things are simple. 

Brands and businesses, irrespective of size, need to do three basic things:

  • Establish the context of your products or services. Hype is great and marketing to the world is fantastic but both tend to offer unrealistic expectations that create a bland, undifferentiated product that simply echoes all the other hype that’s out there. Be specific. Be precise and be detailed.
  • Focus on your values. Yes, it is your products and services that will make you money but it is your brand values that will make people want to do business with you. If you cannot adequately create clarity in your brand identity then it is either not sufficiently clear or you are not clear about it. Either way the end result will be the same: you will not be able to connect with your audience and they will never be sufficiently motivated to want to do business with you.
  • Establish the technical specifics of your service or product. No one wants to buy a sub-standard product or a half-realized service, no matter how nice the guys behind the brand offering it may be. If you are not able to convince why the value of your product is best by explaining the technical characteristics behind it, it is unlikely that your expertise will come through. 

In SEO Help I detailed some 200 steps over 20 chapters that ultimately help you establish these three simple requirements. Making it on the web, now, is harder than ever. The competition is tough, standing out from the crowd is difficult and you can no longer afford to take any shortcuts regarding quality. By the same token, when things are done right, it is also more possible than ever before. 

The choices you make will determine the final outcome you achieve.  



MobileFusion: Real-time Volumetric Surface Reconstruction and Dense Tracking On Mobile Phones (PDF)
Google Project Tango – A Convenient 3D Modeling Device (PDF)