Oprah, Here’s Your New New Favorite Thing: Vlingo Mobile Voice Search

By Bryson Meunier, Natural Search Associate Director, Content Solutions

Oprah Winfrey made headlines in the tech blogs last week by calling the Amazon Kindle her “new favorite thing”. As Oprah tends to do, she spiked search volume on Kindle and probably sales with her endorsement. The Kindle has been on our minds since the beginning, but Oprah may be able to make it interesting to our mothers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and their friends, who don’t necessarily read tech or marketing blogs.

Oprah’s endorsement of Kindle is the latest in product mentions from the media mogul to spark mainstream interest, the most famous of which was probably her 2007 endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Earlier this year she gave Microsoft Silverlight, Skype and e-learning a PR bump by bringing podcasting to the masses, causing Read/Write/Web to speculate on her power to “save the Internet”. Indeed, Oprah is an influencer of public opinion—someone who can take emerging media from the hands of early adopters and give it to the teeming masses. With that in mind, I wish she would pick up on Vlingo.

Though you may not know the name, anyone who has used Yahoo!’s oneSearch with voice for BlackBerry or Nokia knows the product. Vlingo has been powering that product since June 2007, and this month launched some upgrades to their own service that will allow users to search Google and Yahoo! with their voice, as well as post Facebook status updates or Twitter tweets, write text messages, send email, call contacts and open applications on their phone, without having to touch the keyboard at all.

This may not be a big deal for early adopters and younger audiences, for whom texting is almost second nature and whose eyes don’t strain to read the characters on the keyboard. But for the older generation and the easily discouraged, accessing mobile content can be a pain. The older generation by and large thinks that phones are for speaking into, and that’s exactly what Vlingo allows them to do.

The younger generation stands to benefit considerably from the product as well. Anyone who has been lost on the highway without GPS knows the impossibility of typing into a mobile phone while driving, and text messaging while driving is both dangerous and on the rise. Vlingo voice search allows people on the go to search anywhere at any time, including behind the wheel or on the run, dramatically increasing the applications for mobile search, and helping to increase its usage.

This is why I’ve been saying for a while that voice search capabilities will be essential to growing mobile search and the mobile Web beyond early adopters, and probably why more and more mobile search engines have been adding voice input to their available input modes. It’s also why an Oprah endorsement may bring that future closer to fruition.

So Oprah, please, give it a try. If you like it, spread the word. There’s a whole world of mobile content out there waiting for you and your audience to discover. Now all you have to do is ask.


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