Can Micro-Moments Bring Us Closer to Our Personal Intelligent Assistants?

What are micro-moments and why do intelligent assistants need them? Last fall Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research wrote an article about how consumer engagement is shifting toward what he labels “micro-moments.” Hammond describes micro-moments as unprompted alerts or nudges from mobile apps that last about 5-10 seconds. Micro-moments result in brief interactions that engage the user periodically throughout the day.

Micro-momentHammond states that both Apple and Google have recently opened iOS and Android so that app developers can access the unique platform services of mobile devices. This allows developers to shift away from apps that require users to intentionally access them a few times a day, to apps that send notifications or support cross-device interactions.

What does this have to do with intelligent assistants? There are two main types of digital personal assistants out there these days. The first type of assistant waits for you to talk to it and ask it a question. The second type works proactively in the background to determine what information you need and provides it without being prompted. Siri is the classic example of the passive assistant, while Google Now and EasilyDo are examples of smart digital assistants that offer up information without being prompted.

I’m not making a judgement about which type of assistant is better. Each has its place. Being able to ask a specific question is a good thing. Getting information about your schedule or surroundings without having to ask is good too. But it seems to me that micro-moments will become increasingly important for personal intelligent assistants.

The future of these smart, conversational  technologies involves being networked with other connected devices, like our fitness wearables, our connected home appliances, our streaming music services, and many other data sources. The personal digital assistant should be an orchestrator of these services. It should also filter through the data gushing in from connected devices and, ideally, connect the dots to summarize what we need to know.

What if our assistant knows that we haven’t gotten much exercise in all day, that the weather is deteriorating, and that we’ve been invited to dinner by friends? It could notify us that if we leave now, we can get a mile-long walk in before it starts to rain and return in time to get back and be ready for our dinner invitation. It could even suggest that we pick up a bottle of wine for dinner at the corner store down the road. Maybe it’ll even remember what kind of wine our friends prefer? This whole recommendation could come as a micro-moment prompt that we can choose to pay attention to or ignore.

There’s certainly a risk that micro-moments could become bothersome. An intelligent assistant that sends out lots of notifications might get on our nerves, especially if we’re not interested in what it has to tell us. But an assistant that remains in the background runs an equally big risk of becoming a wallflower. And as we all know, its tough to build a satisfying relationship with someone who always waits on us to start the conversation.

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