Q&A with Shira Weinberg

Q&A with Shira Weinberg

Q&A with Shira Weinberg

“There has been an increase in messaging in recent years, and it’s interesting to see why that trend has developed,” says Shira Weinberg, product manager for Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, Cortana. “People are shifting to communicate with messenger applications – in Israel there are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and others as well. We, as users, are very much used to conducting our conversations and interactions using platforms such as these. Conversations that are a little more online, less telephone conversations, more ping pong. It’s a platform that were have become used to, and since this is where the users are, it is logical for all sorts of applications and services to also be there. For customers, too, it is often more convenient than to stop everything, put in a call to a service center, which takes time, and then have to be on the line until the call is finished.”


What you’re saying is that, as consumers or users, we aren’t interested in synchronous conversations. We want to ask a question, and maybe come back an hour later and answer, without someone having to wait on the line for an immediate answer.

“Right, and often it’s for the same reasons that we prefer these platforms in our day-to-day lives. It’s easier for people today to correspond on WhatsApp than to communicate by phone. In recent months I have come across a number of articles and posts on ‘Don’t call me,’ or why it’s no longer logical in 2017 to call people.”

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Apart from the a-synchronicity of a given conversation, we also conduct numerous conversations in parallel, and that’s something that can’t be done by telephone.

“Correct. And let’s take multitasking in general – I can sit in a meeting at work, and write to you, and that’s something that works for me. Or I can be traveling somewhere, I might be in a rather public place, where it’s not convenient for me to have a conversation, for example, if it’s very noisy.”


As someone involved in developing chatbots, where are the problems, in terms of the interaction?

“Many chatbots today still don’t work well. For example, people may start a chat with a bot on Facebook, and ask questions, but the bot responds, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just a bot, I don’t yet know how to do that.’ They try to sell you the experience of chatting with a person, a service representative, and in fact you can’t get the value that you want from it. That’s one of the major gaps that I see, at least as things go in Israel.”


Is it related to the Hebrew language?

“I don’t think so. It’s related to the fact that it’s a still a relatively young market, one that hasn’t proven itself. It’s been a major buzz over the past two years, but I don’t think that its use is actually very big.”


Is it something that could interest younger people more than other learning methods?

“I think so, because they feel very connected with these platforms. Ultimately it’s a matter of where the users are at – if your user, your client, is a child in school or a teenager who communicates with friends on WhatsApp, then you’ll build a bot on WhatsApp, and that will be the easiest way of getting to him. Incidentally, this may be less accessible for younger children – say, in Grade 1 – who don’t yet know how to read or write, and for them this would not be an accessible platform. The truth is, it would be interesting to test this out, because when I look at very young children – I see my nephews and nieces sending pictures on WhatsApp, and recording voice messages. They are using it, but apparently not for written texts.”


Might it be that education chatbots will need to begin with audio?

“Yes. Yes. That may well be the case, particularly if we’re dealing with very small children. I think that for a certain age group it would be much more appropriate – it could be audio, or pictures. We could also think about it in the area of learning languages.”


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