Mike Cohen Discusses Speech Technology's Impact Upon Mobile Industry at SpeechTEK 2007

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NEW YORK -- Using Google's mission statement, "Organize all the world's information," Mike Cohen, the company's speech technology group manager, maintained that speech technology will make an impact in the mobile market, and companies should take steps to adapt to the change.

As the opening keynote speaker of the SpeechTEK 2007 conference, Cohen focused primarily upon Google's speech-powered mobile program, GOOG411, and how it was developed, tested, and altered. Throughout his presentation, Cohen also underlined the importance of keeping an "obsessive focus on the end-user."

Cohen made it clear that there are nearly twice as many mobile phone users worldwide as there are PC users -- 2.76 billion for the former and 1.56 billion for the latter. With those numbers in mind, he explained, developers must find a way to expand information-gathering technology to cell phones and PDA devices. When searching the Web on a mobile device, Cohen said, users want specific information fast, rather than leisurely browsing the Web from a desktop PC. To tackle this challenge, he said, speech technology has an advantage over traditional means of data entry.

"Mobile user needs are focused and time-sensitive," he stated. "They are also adjunct to other, primary activities, such as driving a car while looking up directions."

To tackle this problem, he said, Google developed its GOOG411 service, which was launched earlier this year. The program, which is currently free, allows users to call 1-800-GOOG-411, speak a series of commands regarding location and desired information, and retrieve an address, phone number, or map, courtesy of the company's Google Maps program. Much like phone directory assistance applications, GOOG411 can also connect the user to the business.

GOOG411, Cohen explained, took a four-part approach in its experimentation phase: focusing on end-user needs; advancing core technologies to meet those needs; using data-driven information to develop applications and services; and maintaining continuous experimentation.

In its testing stage, Google used both quantitative and qualitative methods to improve the program's user interface. As Cohen explained, "If we're only getting quantitiatve data, we don't even know if we're measuring the right stuff." To do so, he said, the company experimented with  top match and list data formats. In top match, Google Maps works with user input and returns a first item matching the user inquiry, while allowing the user to ask for more listings. The list method, however, relays a long list of all possible matches found with Google Maps. In the experimentation phase, Cohen said, Google gave 9,424 people the list technology, and 1,600 people the top match method. In trials, the company found top match was voted more useful and effective.

While he said the company is still analyzing data from the experiments, Cohen stated that companies must continue to seek further improvements upon the metrics used to study data regarding customer satisfaction. Though he concluded his presentation by stressing the impact of spoken commands and text-to-speech technology, he stressed the need to solve future obstacles with a user-focused and data-driven optimization process.

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