Conversational Computing Changes Everything: It Starts With Search
A handful of significant game-changing developments have shaped and reshaped the Internet—and thanks to recent developments in Generative A.I., we’re standing on the threshold of the next big one. When the Web was still young and in the process of going mainstream, the Internet Browser organized the Web into something that could be more easily accessible by the average individual. This became and still is—a dominant way to browse the Web. The next colossal moment came with the advent of search engines. Instead of manually inputting links into a browser window or clicking from link to link, one could enter various keywords to find the information they were looking for.
The next big moment for the Internet was the transition from “static” brochure-like Websites to Websites that began to support robust transactions. Then came “Web2” and with it, a variety of new Web-based business models and services, as well as two turbocharged transformations: the addition of the “social Web” organized by friends and followers as well as the mobile Web—moving the internet into our pocket with apps. Today’s Internet is in the early stages of being transformed once again—this time, instead of search, social, mobile, etc.—it’s going to be a Web that supports conversations.
Conversational computing isn’t entirely new—but with the Generative genie out of the bottle—it’s being reinvented in real-time. We already have conversational-type interfaces on platforms like Google Home, Alexa, and thousands of chatbot experiences across the Internet. Microsoft’s recent announcement that Open A.I.’s ChatGPT will be integrated into its search engine, Bing promises to make the theory of conversational search a reality. Joanna Stern from the Wall Street Journal describes her conversational search experience with Bing as nothing short of transformative:
“Bye-bye, long skinny search bar. Hello, big search box that invites you to “Ask Me Anything.” I asked: “Can you recap the biggest winners of the 2023 Grammys?” The results page gave me the usual answers on the left. But the bigger trick? On the right, Bing’s chatbot typed out the answer, with a bulleted list of winners and a mention of Beyoncé’s most-Grammys-ever record. The answer also contained clickable citations, noting the source of the listed information.”
Google has also prioritized its version of conversational search—giving it the name “Bard”. But conversational search is just going to be the starting point. Every digital experience that should be a conversation will become a conversation. Here are a few other areas where we might see more and better conversational experiences come to life sooner than later:
As previously mentioned—we’ve already had limited exposure to conversational interfaces via chatbots—but this category will be transformed. Searching and browsing for products and services will be supplemented by conversations where one can ask questions about specific products, express likes or dislikes and build upon the conversation like talking to a knowledgeable salesperson. Shopify currently defines Conversational Shopping as “the intersection of messaging apps and shopping. Meaning, the trend toward interacting with businesses through messaging and chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat. Or through voice technology, like Amazon’s Echo product, which interfaces with companies through voice commands.”
But many of these experiences fall short of the promise of a conversation as commerce—and that’s where generative AI comes in—already, those who have invested time with ChatGPT can feel the difference between what it knows and how it talks about the information it indexes. Conversational Commerce now has the potential to realize the vision more fully.
Higher education is already being augmented by digital learning platforms such as Udemy. However, many emerging learning platforms offer video-based education that essentially plays off a conventional lecture format. But conversational interfaces, supplemented by technology such as generative AI will establish a back-and-forth between teacher and pupil. Conversational learning already exists in a non-AI-enabled traditional format. Described as the conversational instruction method, where a teacher presents small groups of students with a question and asks them to work out the answer among the group. Michael Ioffe, CEO and co-founder of Arist, a micro-learning platform shares his takeaways related to this shift: “We’ve seen conversational learning via SMS, Slack, and Teams make a huge difference for our corporate clients, both because it meets people where they are and because it leverages leading learning research. AI will make conversational learning an even stronger alternative to video by making content creation and personalization way faster.”
Google’s race to dominate the coming of conversational search is fueled by the two drivers of its business model—data and revenue. Much of that revenue comes from marketing budgets which brands toss at Google to show up in crucial search queries—a pillar of consumer behavior. But Conversational marketing must invent an entirely new model, fueled by how search will transform. Advertising veteran Ben Kunz, an executive vice president at marketing firm Media Associates describes the challenge: “Imagine the pressure SEM (Search Engine Marketing) will be under when AI chatbots take off. For example, this AI plans vacations. Where will ads fit in such conversations? He goes on to prompt AI, which responds to a question about a vacation recommendation which includes a response that recommends Figi. Kunz points out: “you can see the advertising puzzle: how would a competitor such as Iceland’s tourism group insert itself into that response.”
The bigger picture of what’s going on with Google. Microsoft and, eventually, every tech company (and brand) will be the adoption of conversational computing by the average Internet user. When people get used to these new ways of interacting with the Internet that feel less like search queries and more like a natural chat—you can bet that the race to own conversational computing will kick into high gear, accentuated by high stakes. After that—it’s follow the data… and dollars.