Word has leaked out about Ben Parr’s latest endeavor and it’s sounding like it’ll revolutionize the future. Well, if what we’re reading is true, that is. A few weeks ago, the former Editor-at-Large of Mashable gave word that he was going to have a series of announcements about what he’s going to be doing now. It was known that he was teaming up with a co-founder to create a startup, but he kept it pretty close to his sleeve, always saying that he’s “not ready to announce yet”. Then, the truth slowly started to come out. First, it was his announcement that he was going to continue writing, but this time it was a weekly column for CNET. And then last week, TechCrunch seemed to let it all out with a post that, if you believe what you read, spoiled the surprise.
So what was this stealthy startup that Mr. Parr has been working on? It’s called the Peep Project and it’s started by both Mr. Parr and his co-founder, Hilary Karis, formerly a senior software engineer for Sociable Labs. The only thing that seems to have been revealed is what the Peet Project is all about: it’s going to be your “intelligent assistant”, which TechCrunch assumed was going to be a Siri wannabe, but Mr. Parr is adamant that they’re “not building Siri”. They further describe the Peep Project being something to “help manage your information universe”. You can get a slightly better understanding of what Mr. Parr and Ms. Karis is doing if you read their AngelList proposal, specifically when dealing with recruiting (they’re hiring for a designer, by the way):
Can’t remember the super-awesome thing you found on the web yesterday? Ever have so many tabs open that you run out of memory? We’re fixing that…We think of The Peep Project as a cause. We’re going to change the way people interact with information. We’re going to change how people use the web.
While they say that they’re not building Siri, what it potentially may seem to be is that they’re expanding on a whole new level of Artificial Intelligence and building upon the platform that created Siri. I’m not saying that the Peep Project will be a voice-activated automaton and I might be totally wrong about what the Peep Project is about, but the fact they’re describing this as an “intelligent assistant” is probably going to be something much more than the next mechanical turk. The age of technology “assistants” is rapidly approaching–Siri was the pioneer in this and the Peep Project might be the one to evolve it to make it much more meaningful (how exactly remains to be seen). Those that I know that have been exposed to the Peep Project say that what Mr. Parr is doing has a shot and I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt (the man has ideas…).
But the Peep Project isn’t the only one thinking about trying to get rid of Siri’s monopoly of being a true virtual assistant. In fact, Google has indicated that they would like to compete with Apple and create their own. In a TechCrunch post written by Alexia Tsotsis, it’s being reported that Apple will be trying to integrate Siri into multiple platforms. So the search engine giant has said they’re working on an assistant program as well and hope to roll it out soon. Perhaps the most poignant part of the post is this analysis from Ms. Tsotsis: “Google has now set its ambitions beyond social and is focused wholeheartedly on building this “Do engine,” or goal oriented search: 2011 was the year of social for Google. 2012 is the year of ‘Assistant.’”
That’s right: 2012 will be the year of the “Assistant” and it seems that Mr. Parr and Ms. Karis have acknowledged this and want to get ahead of the game. We’re no longer talking about just social applications like Instagram, Twitter, Path, Facebook, or Zynga. Instead, the tech industry is slowly moving towards an era where applications and services will be tapping into the awesome API powers of these “assistants”. Maybe that’s something the Peep Project is all about-who knows, we won’t even find out for a while until they fully announce what they’re up to.
The Verge reports that Google’s Assistant service won’t just be a standalone application–developers will be given access to the API in order to integrate Assistant right into their very own applications, but the knowledge would come right from Google’s enormous search engine, not from the application creator’s library. But what Assistant would do is give users the ability to speak to get answers, search results, and more–just like Siri. It will be interesting to see how the Peep Project can differentiate itself from this, but I think that given that only Apple and Google are the two major players who are probably diving head first into this, the Peep Project has a good chance at being a major player and help shape the discussion about this stuff.
Last month, a study was done that indicated that Siri currently accounts for 25 percent of traffic handled by search engine Wolfram Alpha. But compared to how Assistant would leverage the Google engine, the results that Wolfram Alpha would produce for the Apple iPhone is based on data curated by the service, not on algorithms attempting to search the web. In his proposal, Mr. Parr stated that he’s trying to create a product that will focus on “intelligent information”–something that will have us look at information in a different way. Perhaps the service will be about changing the status quo and evolving the information received from Wolfram Alpha or another similar service and building a completely new dynamic that will make things more contextually relevant?
Who knows..we’ll just have to wait and see. Of course, I could be entirely wrong…in which case, he’s probably building a social network for cats.
- Ben Parr at work at BlogWorld Expo 2009 by Ken Yeung/Flickr
- Apple iPhones with Siri by Apple