siriscreen.jpg Siri formally launched itself into the eager hands of iPhone 3GS users late last week, as a free download in the Apple iTunes Store. On the Siri blog CEO Dag Kittlaus catalogued the stats behind the much-awaited virtual personal assistant: 5 years of work, 42 integrated services, 6,540 issues resolved, and UI redesigns once a day, among them – along with other figures such as number of soft drinks consumed in the process (12,090), pizza slices eaten (3,375) and average weight gain per person since the first day of employment (14 pounds).

Siri doesn’t yet have covered “Best Gyms/Diet Centers” near its offices, but the first version of the application can help you find (within range of your location) and book restaurants serving the cuisine you fancy, movies and events that meet your time and taste criteria, and taxi services to get you from where you are at point A to where you want to be at Point B – all through natural language voice or text queries. Siri, according to the company, now also is learning how to handle reminders, flights stats and reference questions to take it beyond its V1 self-described status as “Out and About Mobile Entertainment Assistant.”

The daily UI redesign comment in Kittlaus’ blog is likely literal. Tom Gruber, Siri’s co-founder, talked about Siri’s delivering on the “big think small screen” concept with the Semanticweb Blog back in December, discussing its goal of harnessing the powerful trends of cloud computing, 3G networks, and semantic technologies to help “make people smart at the interface.” There aren’t many early comments on the iTunes blog but the few there indicate it is succeeding (e.g. “You don’t even need to think of which app to pull up to find information about shows or restaurants or just about any other life situation.”


Siri, says Mills Davis, founder and managing director of research consultancy Project10X and the author of the new Executive’s Quick Start Guide to Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web research report, “points the way to the next level of semantic web apps in which the semantic web becomes more than just a ‘web of data,’ but also a “web of services” with intelligent UIs.”

Today, he says, “people are discovering the value of linked (open) data. That is, connecting information across the web creates new value and is more than simple aggregation. But, what Siri demonstrates is that we can also talk about the value linked (open) services that put this information to work for people. You are no longer merely searching or browsing, no longer just retrieving information; rather, you’re solving human problems. That’s using the web in a whole new way.” He wonders whether semantic web standards are ready for this new breed of application, but thinks that if not, “it’s probably a good time to update them so we can have ‘semantic APIs’ to make building them easier.”

One of the things each install of the Siri app will be building, on a user-by-user basis, is personalizing users’ results (with their permission) as it gets to know them better. As long as Siri and other companies in the semantic web space use technology to help individuals solve individual problems, trust is transparent and can be leveraged for increasing personalization. “What we have designed is a curve that has on one axis the trust of sharing information and on the other value,” Gruber told us late last year. “In well-designed products you get some value for your trust – you want to book a restaurant, just give us your phone number and email address for your confirmation,” as opposed to demanding every piece of information about a user and their accounts before giving them access to services.

“This is taking them up slowly,” Gruber said. “Over time we want to deepen the model of the Virtual Assistant so as you start out, the metaphor is you’re on the road and [Siri is like the assistant] you call to solve a problem – but ultimately you really want Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H who knows what you want in advance.”

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