Why Using Voice Assisted Technologies to Enhance Your Website’s User Experience is Your Next Move

Why Using Voice Assisted Technologies to Enhance Your Website’s User Experience is Your Next Move

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Did you know that more than 77 percent of households with WiFi connections have at least one smart home device? The COVID-19 pandemic (thankfully) blurred the line between convenience and privacy as consumers began warming up to the idea of using their smart home devices for work purposes.

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Perhaps, one of the more exciting technology trends to look out for in 2022 is the future of smart home devices and voice-assisted technologies in the customer/user experience (CX/UX), specifically as it relates to e-commerce and websites.

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A Roadmap of Voice Assisted Technology

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Fifty years ago, IBM introduced the IBM Showbox, which is considered to be today’s first true digital speech recognition tool. When it first launched in 1961, it could only understand 16 words – making today’s voice-assisted technology a great milestone in the evolution of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and voice recognition technology.  \n

In the event you are unfamiliar with voice-assisted technology, it is simply a piece of software that communicates to the user audibly, responding to user-spoken commands. It’s integrated into technology such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri – with the ability to talk to computers, smartphones, or other A.I.-powered devices. \n

Voice assisted technology has created such high demand in the marketplace for smart home technology that the questions surrounding the technology’s longevity and viability have begun to expand into web-based technology and websites, continuing to drive industry-leading companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and SoundHound to integrate their own voice recognition technologies into everyday consumer electronics. \n

Amazon’s ‘Alexa’

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In November 2014, Amazon announced its very first smart speaker, known as ‘Amazon Echo,’ becoming incredibly popular throughout the marketplace due to its ability to check the weather, monitor traffic, play music and podcasts at a user’s vocal command arguably launching the smart speaker phenomenon. \n

“Our vision for Alexa is to be an ambient assistant that is proactive, personal, and predictable, everywhere customers want her to be,” said technology evangelist Jeff Blankenberg at this year’s annual Amazon Alexa Live event.  \n

“This [voice technology] enables them to do more and think about technology less. It’s our long-term vision, which means there’s a lot of work to be done to make this a reality. These tools and features will make it easier to drive discovery, growth, and engagement, unlock more ways to delight customers, and address a few key focus areas.” \n

Google’s ‘Home’

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In November 2016, Google, in efforts to stay relevant and competitive, also launched its first smart speaker device, known as ‘Google Home,’ which arguably, became more of a commercial success than Amazon’s Echo, primarily because of the amount of user data Google already had from the majority of its user base.

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The main difference between Google and Amazon’s devices is Google’s ability to capitalize off its search engine capabilities, while Amazon, unfortunately, has been extremely limited in its ability to pull information in real-time.

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Consequently, this allowed for Google to dominate the smart speaker space, successfully integrating its voice recognition technology with its years of personalized data.

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Microsoft’s ‘Cortana’

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In 2001, Microsoft launched its first speech recognition feature (Text-to-Speech) for Office XP, to then follow up again in April 2014 with its digital personal assistant, Cortana, which uses the Bing search engine to perform tasks, such as setting reminders and answering questions for the user.

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It wasn’t until 2017 that Microsoft partnered with Amazon to integrate Echo and Cortana with one another, allowing users of each smart home assistant to use the other’s services through vocal commands. For example, Windows 10 and 11 users can say “Hey Cortana, open Alexa,” and Echo users can say “Alexa, open Cortana” to activate the other assistant.

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In 2019, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Cortana was no longer considered by the company to be a competitor against Alexa and Apple’s ‘Siri.’ \n

Apple’s ‘Siri’ \n

Following in Microsoft’s footsteps, Apple introduced “Siri” ten years later in April 2011, which many consider to be today’s launchpad for voice recognition technology. While Siri has been a longstanding player in this space, it has failed to really showcase any “wow factor” that would separate itself from other players such as Google or Amazon – other than its ability to integrate into car products.

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SoundHound

\n Back in November, voice assistant maker SoundHound Inc. announced that it would go public with a blank-check firm, Archimedes Tech SPAC Partners Co. (ATSPU.O), at $2.1 billion.

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Since its inception in 2005 by a group of Stanford graduates, SoundHound, a California-based company, has developed a voice artificial intelligence platform to help businesses integrate conversational voice assistants into their products – serving customers including Mercedes-Benz, Mastercard, and Snap.  \n

Its technology, according to the company, is available in 22 languages, offering clients tools to help analyze customer usage and behavior, which they can use to improve the voice experience for their products.  \n

At the close of the deal, SoundHound will list on NASDAQ towards Q1 of 2022, listing under the ticker symbol “SOUN.”

The Future of Voice Assisted Technology in PHP and WordPress

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A new technology to keep your eyes on as we prepare to enter into 2022 is Convoworks, a GUI-based, cross-platform, voice assistant, and chatbot services development framework that functions through both an open-source PHP library and a WordPress plugin. Currently, the company is primarily focused on building out Alexa capabilities.

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I came across Convoworks in my attempt at understanding what solutions, if any, existed for PHP and WordPress. What I concluded was that as we are all witnessing an increase in conversational platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams – most platforms aren’t properly utilizing voice applications, if at all.  \n

The platform brings forth a powerful interface based upon an open architecture that the PHP and WordPress communities can utilize to better capitalize on voice-enabled features to enhance their customers’ experiences on their websites and e-commerce platforms. \n

“Right now, it’s too complex to make an Alexa skill for WordPress websites and/or businesses,” Convoworks founder Tihomir Dmitrović told me in an interview. “It’s even worse that people aren’t even searching for it, because they think it’s impossible or too complex. Our framework runs inside WordPress installation, so there is no need for a new API. In some cases, there may be a need for custom development, but that development will be done by someone who usually maintains and knows your website.” \n

Dmitrović, who has spent over 11 years working for an international, Swiss-based company, NTH Group, witnessed dramatic technology changes in the mobile segment, working with SMS, MMS, voice, and even WAP/WML technologies, leading to what is known today as the mobile web. His specialty throughout his professional career has been performing backend solutions to support business needs, shifting the need for business owners to solely rely upon the developer for the smallest of changes, as customers’ needs change by the day.  \n

In the spring of 2019, Convoworks applied to the EU, receiving a grant of €150K (approximately $169,000), utilizing the majority of the grant to address fully redesigning the GUI, creating the ability to push data to platforms in two directions, and the WordPress integration.  \n

Two years before receiving the EU grant, the company already had a working proof of concept, focusing its attention on a project whereby the goal was to connect to the Alexa and Google Home operating systems. Unfortunately, that version did not have any GUI, with a hard-coded conversation definition. “It was using the same components and concepts we have now, while working on Amazon and Google in just one direction – from platform to our webhook.”  \n

As the company continued to play around with the project, it eventually added a GUI for managing conversation workflow, which did not require any more hard coding. However, they needed funding for the development of a more fully functional GUI, bringing the EU into the conversation. \n

“The most important thing is that we created these functions within PHP, opening the door to simultaneously implement it as a WordPress plugin.” The entire solution was finished in April of this year, according to the company, with an additional €150K grant from Fil Rouge Capital to help Convoworks find the product-market fit.

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“We created a way to describe conversational services,” Dmitrović explained. “We use steps to define what stages conversation has and we have two main types of components – elements and processors.” \n

“Elements,” according to Dmitrović, are working, sequentially executed components such as IF, LOOP, GOTO, and read data, while “processors” are trying to catch user intentions. From there, Convoworks implements adapters for various platforms such as Alexa, Dialogflow, and Viber.

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“The first direction is during skill development, where we are pushing the skill model to platforms (intents, utterances, and configuration data). The second direction is when the end user involves service through a smart speaker. In that case, the particular platform is sending requests to us on our webhooks, where we execute service workflow, returning a response to the platform, which then transforms it to voice and speaks back.” \n

Are Cloud-Based Solutions Too Complicated? \n

One of the biggest challenges in the industry, according to the company, is that three existing third-party WordPress plugins and Alexa solutions – Shoutworks, Voicedesigner, and WPAlexa, which besides built-in functionalities, do not allow third-party extensions. In other words, if developers want to voice enable their own plugin, they are required to implement not just their own business logic but all connectivity to platforms.

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From my conversation with Dmitrović, Convoworks changes that outcome.

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“We allow for third-party WordPress plugins and integrations to be able to register their own component packages,” Dmitrović shared. “When you have a plugin for placing orders and enhance it through a plugin with custom Convoworks components, this allows us and our customers to have full functionality on the voice channel.”

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Additionally, the majority of the industry’s most popularly accepted solutions are cloud-based, which according to Dmitrović, is too complicated for two reasons.

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“First, your local system developer needs to create an API where the platforms will connect, read, and update data. \n

Secondly, you need a voice specialist who implements his/her/their part in some cloud solution. It’s too complex and costly in the end, where small businesses just can’t afford to move forward with this type of solution.”

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He added that in one of the voice community meetings he had previously attended, he heard a case study where a customer was complaining that he had to reach out to the developer just to change a few bot responses or background color – “which is why Convoworks has its own adapters for the platform, so there is no need for the additional cloud solutions or development that some voice specialists are required to do.”

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What to Expect in 2022

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While Dmitrović had few words to share about the current status of the project, he did say that consumers are able to use the beta version at no cost. “We do not have a scheduled V1 release, but it could be expected by the end of spring 2022. We will have a free and premium version in a common WordPress manner, but it is not well-defined as of this moment.”

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At a core level, Convoworks aims to support multiple languages due to the increasing popularity of voice-enabled devices while extending its focus to chatbots and platform connectivity such as Amazon Lex, IBM Watson, etc.

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“We expect to have at least a dozen popular, third party plugins to have additional components and service templates for Convoworks. Covering WooCommerce will be our next big step in handling the WordPress segments.”

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Dmitrović concluded our conversation by emphasizing the company’s priority in doubling the Alexa skills market size, which currently has approximately 80,000 skills in the U.S. Alexa store. “With WordPress behind us, we should be able to double that market,” he said.

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At the end of the day, WordPress is not just composed of websites and their owners. There are many plugin developers that make WordPress such a great platform. With projects like Convoworks, plugin developers will be able to better expose and expand their own business logic as conversational components, so they aren’t required to learn all platform requirements.

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“They just need to create a couple of elements, which is a very straightforward process and their plugin will be voice ready!”

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