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Google’s Needy Assistant

December 21, 2020

We have several Google home devices: a Google Home Mini that I got free from Spotify, the original Google Hub (now Nest Hub) that we bought primarily as a digital photo frame, and a Google Home Max that we bought during a 50% off sale to use as a speaker in our WFH office. All are perfectly lovely devices; I enjoy seeing old photos on the Hub, the Home Max has great sound (and it’s convenient to Cast to it from our laptops), and the Mini is useful for checking the weather when getting dressed.

But we almost never interact with the Assistant on any of those devices, and we’re clearly not alone; the Assistant team seems to be getting increasingly desperate to drive usage (disclaimer: I work for Google, but on the Android team; I have no idea what the Assistant team is up to). It started out with the Assistant tagging on “helpful” hints when I’d ask it the weather (“Did you know that…?”). That’d be fine if it happened once or twice, but the Assistant keeps doing it (at a guess there’s some inactivity threshold that I keep crossing; like I said, we don’t interact with the Assistant much). And there’s no way (at least no way I’ve found) to tell the Assistant “yes, I do know, I just don’t care, so stop bothering me”.

This week the Assistant crossed a new threshold: now when telling me yet again that it had additional capabilities I could use, it informed me that it was going to send me a notification with additional details. It’s apparently not enough to verbally nag me to interact with it more; now it’s starting to spam my other devices.

Neediness isn’t a good look for an “intelligent” assistant. Offer users suggestions and tips once or twice, then stop nagging them. Make it easy to find out how to leverage additional capabilities when users are interested. And focus on providing capabilities that offer users real value, rather than nagging them into using mediocre ones (or ones that the user just doesn’t need).

From → Design

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