Voice is just another interface
A voice-activated device is like a browser you interact with by speaking instead of pointing and clicking. An Alexa skill or Google Assistant Action is just a thin layer that 1) defines the patterns of speech for which the device is listening; and 2) maps the components of that speech to information provided by your news site, a local real estate multiple listing service (MLS) or some other system run by a partner.
But voice is a totally different interface
Web designers can constrain user input through links, buttons, form fields, and other front-end components to which we’ve all become accustomed after decades of use. However, the conventions of human speech are much more fluid. There are so many ways to start the “I want to buy house” conversation, and so many paths that conversation might take. Voice designers, then, have to focus less on creating a consistent experience in favor of creating a more personal and adaptable experience. The goal is to strike a balance of guiding users through the interaction while keeping the flow more natural than, say, the rigid script of an automated customer service line.
“Talk with them, not at them”
This tip is courtesy of Paul Cutsinger, Head of Alexa Voice Design Education. Voice is not broadcast. It is not a one-way relationship between you, the content creator, and a massive passive audience. Voice is fundamentally more cooperative than any preceding medium, and working in it demands a user-centered mindset.
Start by imagining yourself there with a family that wants to buy a home. What questions are they asking? How might those questions vary from one person to the next? Purchasing a home is a major life-changing that comes with countless anxieties and contingencies to manage. Think broadly about the possible ways you could help people, for example, learn about their neighborhood, their schools, moving, buying furniture, hiring landscapers, etc.
Hone your brand
If you’re already an established destination for local real estate-related news, think about why people come to you. What unique information do you offer? Why does your audience trust you? Now figure out how to distill those assets into a voice that users want to invite into their conversations. A great exercise for this stage of development is to write examples of the dialogue you expect users to have with your voice product. Sketch out multiple scenarios, including one-on-one dialogues between a user and your product as well as a more social scenario with multiple users conversing and your voice product popping in and out of the conversation.
Follow the rules
If you’ll be distributing residential home listings through your local board of realtors or MLS, voice product will have to include a few extra features (read more here). Also, familiarize yourself with Amazon Alexa Marketing and Branding Guidelines and Actions on Google’s Branding Policies.
About the Futures Lab
The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab, based at the Missouri School of Journalism, uses technology and innovation to strengthen the news industry. Lab members regularly speak at conferences, produce a journalism/technology web series — Innovation In Focus and partner with industry professionals, students and researchers in work that finds new solutions to journalism’s challenges.