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In this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined by Alan Presch, freelance SEO consultant, to discuss how accents can affect voice search and voice assistants.
Jack: Welcome to episode 83 of season two of the Search with Candour podcast. I'm Jack Chambers-Ward. I am your host for this week, and joining me in a conversation all about voice search and accents is my guest, Alan Presch. We'll be talking, as I said, all about how accents can affect voice assistants and voice search. And Alan has a really interesting story from a previous project he worked on talking all about that and how important it is to make sure that our voice assistants are trained on accents. We talk about all kinds of stuff around that topic as well, and do stay tuned for that coming up later on in the show.
Before I get to that, I would like to say a huge thank you to this week's sponsor, the one and only SISTRIX, who you may know as the SEO's toolbox. You can go to sistrix.com/swc. That stands for Search with Candour, if you hadn't worked that out already, and you can go and check out some of their fantastic free tools and also get a free trial of their suite of tools and services as well. In particular, I'm going to be talking about the visibility index this week because we're back on IndexWatch from the US from the legend that is Lily Ray, friend of the show, former guest of the show, Lily Ray, talking all about the index watch losers of the first half of 2023 from the US and already had talked about the UK winners and losers thanks to Luce Rawlings, another former guest on the show. Now, we're going to be talking about the visibility losers in the US.
There is a lot of shifting around dictionary sites, and this is something that's come up on the show before quite a few times where Google really seems to be changing the intent for... Or at least changing the understanding of a lot of the intent of searches. So changes in visibility for dictionary sites are often closely tied to changes in Google's understanding of intent. So think about it this way when you are searching for a word, and I don't know if you've often seen the auto complete meaning or definition tanked on the end of a word or a phrase, providing that definition is often a thing that not only will it provide in a featured snippet in its own Google generated kind of featured snippet as well, but it's also a thing where Google is trying to understand where the intent is for you searching that phrase.
And there's actually a quote in Lily's article all about this from the Google's quality guidelines. This is from the 2019 update that states, "When assigning Needs Met ratings for dictionary and encyclopedia results, careful attention must be paid to user intent. Like all results, the helpfulness of dictionary and encyclopedia results depend on the query and user intent. Dictionary and encyclopedia results may be topically relevant for many searches, but often these results are not helpful for common words that most people in your rating locale already understand. Reserve high Needs Met ratings for dictionary and encyclopedia results when the user intent for the query is likely what is it or what does it mean? And the result was helpful for users seeking that type of information."
So just with a little bit of SERP analysis here, we can see how much has changed for things like winter season. So that's maybe something people would need some understanding of and going through and looking at things like lawinsider.com or Miriam Webster, Britannica, the thesaurus.com, a lot of these sites are seeing a big, big shift in visibility over the last sort of few months or so pretty much. Also, seen a big shift in a lot of travel sites and review sites specifically. Again, Google has been doing a lot of updates around reviews. If you haven't been up to date with that, we did a podcast on that a few months ago as well with Mark and I talking about the reviews update of what happened earlier this year. So yeah, a lot of stuff changing. I think Google is reinterpreting and re-understanding and updating how it understands a lot of the intent for a lot of these keywords. And especially as we shift more towards the SGE and more generative results and things like that, that is going to change more and more I think, and we're going to see fewer and fewer of these kind of sites that just provide very basic standard, straightforward information for want a better phrase like dictionary sites.
We're going to see them shift a lot more in the SERPs in the coming months and years, I think as we shift towards a more generative search experience. Well, I have barely scratched the surface on Lily Ray's one half of the piece, by the way, because there's a second half which talks all about the winners in visibility as well in the US. So please do go and check that out. Go sistrix.com/blog and go and check out index watch SEO visibility losers for the first half of 2023, SEO visibility winners for the first half of 2023 as well, both written by the fantastic Lily Ray over at SISTRIX as part of the data journalism team. Thank you, SISTRIX for sponsoring the podcast. And like I said, please do go sistrix.com/blog to check out all the latest updates.
And my guest for this week is the one and only Alan Presch. Welcome to the show.
Alan: Thanks for having me.
Jack: It's lovely to have you on. I think this is the first time we've had a wife-husband duo on the podcast since your wife Sarah was on the show many months ago and now you're joining me this week. It's nice to have you both on.
Alan: Yeah. Well, you don't get many married couples working in SEO together, but unfortunately we started an agency together and then that turned into a thing and we ended up getting married. Now, we both have basically the same CV except for the last two years.
Jack: Nice, nice.
Jack: So what are you up to? You are a freelance SEO consultant, right?
Alan: Yeah. Right now I'm working on a mass content upload project for a jobs website, which involves... Well, basically regarding the SEO department for Ireland and the UK. So about 60,000 articles in the last two years.
Alan: Just ridiculous. Yeah. It's not fun. It's basically professional copying and pasting at full stage. It's ridiculous.
Jack: If it pays the bills, right? That's what you got to do sometimes, professional copying and pasting.
Jack: I'm glad you mentioned Ireland there as well, because that's something we're going to be talking about, right? We are going to dive into a bit of a voice search, voice assistant topic, which is something a little bit different for the show. We've touched on voice search a couple of times, and also funnily enough, when Sarah was on the show, we talked a lot about localization, cultural differences, differences in languages, and how that can affect how people search and stuff like that as well. But specifically, you came with the story about essentially, if I've got this right, reprogramming and trying to understand how voice assistants understand different accents, right?
Alan: Yeah. So as I mentioned, me and Sarah started up our own agency years back, and we mainly did SEO and marketing within the translation industry because that's where we had such a strong background. So we became the go-to people in the translation agency or translation industry for digital marketing stuff, things that the translation industry really didn't understand because they're very traditional. So I think this was actually over COVID because we never got the... Yeah, it was just roughly during the first lockdown period that we got a phone call from a person we had never met, we never had to get any contact with, but she'd been recommended to us because they had such a ridiculous problem that the client was training their voice search to specifically understand Irish, Welsh, Scottish accents because the voice assistant, which we're going to avoid naming for safety reasons, was having trouble understanding them. So what they wanted was help finding about 300 people to talk to each other, pick a friend and talk to them for about three hours so that they could record the conversations and transcribe it and then feed it back into the machines.
Alan: Yeah. When you say it like that, it's very unimpressive.
Jack: No. That sounds like a lot of work. That sounds like a lot of manual labour-
Alan: Oh, it's crazy.
Jack: ... of getting through. Especially now with so many people are talking about ChatGPT and AI and like, "Oh yeah, the machines do all the work." But there is actual manual work going on behind the scenes to get to the stage where we are now with so much of the technology we use. You've got to program it in and manually get it to understand that stuff in the first place, right?
Alan: Precisely. This is what everyone forgets about facial recognition that to get to the point where you can't understand the black face, you got to put in a couple of million white.
Jack: Yeah. I think that's a huge case with a lot of the voice assistant stuff. I was reading a post and doing some research for this topic. There's a study from the Washington Post, and basically consensus was like, "Yeah, it will recommend specifically white American, West Coast like region neutral accents because surprise, surprise, that's where Silicon Valley is and that's where all the technology is being made." So that's what it's being programmed on. And you're totally right. Same with facial recognition. It's trained on a bunch of white tech dudes because those are the people that are sat in the offices working on that technology.
Alan: But it's just a bad luck kind of unconscious bias happening here that you always go with what you know?
Jack: I think there's that kind of element. As the listeners probably know and can tell, I'm English. I have a fairly regional neutral... Despite growing up here in Norwich, which has a very strong regional accent, I have managed to dodge it for 30 years somehow, thank God. Despite being surrounded by that all my life pretty much, there's a real interesting thing for me when I meet. So my wife is from Yorkshire, and that is a very strong regional accent. For the listeners, not in the UK, that is the Northern English one. If you've ever heard Game of Thrones and stuff, it's up North and her mum has a pretty strong accent. That family have a pretty strong accent and they struggle to use things like satnavs when you're using the voice control or like the, "Okay, Google, do the thing. Hey, Alexa, do the thing," and it will not understand them at all, and they just get frustrated. And then throw it in the bin, throw it out a window and just give up.
Alan: Yeah. I think I'm falling into your boat of being non-accented. My wife calls it a “Dublin Nerd” accent because she met another guy who was quite nerdy in Dublin, and we had the similar accent because we watched way too many cartoons and American shows as kids. I started to change my dress when I started going to the airport because I went back to Dublin on my own and everyone thought I was American.
Jack: Oh, interesting.
Alan: Yeah. And then when I was about to leave my parents' place, my dad found a load of costume jewelry in a river because my dad has a weird knack at finding treasure. And there was this really cool harp pin. I was like, "Fuckin' A, this is going to make me stand out as Irish and people will stop calling me American." And then I got to the airport. Within 10 minutes of being in the airport, I had three people ask me: where in America I was from, if New York City was in New York state and if I was having a hella good day because clearly I'm American and I'm on my way back to America.
Jack: That is bizarre. I can hear your Irish twang. Absolutely. Maybe I'm a big accent nerd anyway, so that maybe helps. I've done voice acting training and stuff, so I'm usually pretty good at picking up on accents. Like you said, it's not a strong Irish accent, but you've definitely got an Irish twang to you.
Alan: It's mainly mannerisms. I don't know. It doesn't help that I don't talk to many Irish people every day. So it's very possible that I'm losing what little accent I had in the first place.
Jack: So you talked about loading in all this manual data and stuff and program this voice assistance stuff. So how was that process actually going through and what effort did it take to actually get to the point where it started actually understanding different languages and different accents stuff? Because you've also got the fact of non-native English speakers are often speaking in English and there's a whole other kettle of fish. A can of worms to open!
Alan: So when it comes to this product, there was three main issues. Firstly, there was finding people to try and import information. So when it comes to voice search and search are basically the same thing. The only difference is that your voice is going through a processor to be picked apart and put into digital text that can then be put into a web browser. There's no great magic to this. It's just a really rather simple thing, but it's getting enough input that it can tell the difference between a Scottish person saying 11. And actually, what was the other one? Sarah and I had this ongoing argument about the pronunciation of a “martyr”, someone who dies for a cause.
Jack: Oh, right. Yeah.
Alan: But because she was sitting with another English person at the time, they pronounce it with a very soft or... So to me it sounds like the name “Marta”. So martyr / Marta. So to get to that level of understanding to tell the difference between the two, it takes hundreds and hundreds of hours of recorded voices. And rather than using a traditional phone app and just hitting record, they needed to record each side of the conversation independently. So my side of the phone call, your side of the phone call.
Jack: Kind of like what we’re doing now.
Alan: Yeah, exactly. Just like the way you're using with this software Slipstream?
Alan: Ah, Streamyard. It's new one for me. So first, the phone calls would've to be recorded. That's a lot of hours and then they would have to be sent to transcribers to write out everything that is said, even the um's, uh's, everything. And then that was uploaded. The challenge was more getting people to try it because during COVID, people are not willing to do this. He couldn't just ring a college and say, "Hey, can I borrow a technology class and get them to try this for me." And then the app they were using was very selective about phones. For some reason, it just wouldn't work out certain phones. And then that couple of people were out of options. So it was a logistical nightmare of finding enough people getting them to do this for... I think we were offering a 50-year Amazon voucher which isn't about prize for essentially just calling and wait for three hours and having a conversation on literally any topic. So it was easy money for buying crap on Amazon.
Jack: So with that process, they then feed through to transcribers. We do that here on the show. We have a transcript. We send that off to a company called Rev and then they transcribe manually. I've encountered it quite a few times, if I've had a non-native speaking guest or a guest with an accent, they will just mark it inaudible, and I have to go back and listen and be like, what did they say? It might even be like an industry term they're not familiar with. And I've even supplied them with a general kind of SEO glossary. So if we say GA4 is all caps, GA4, all that kind of stuff. And even then I'll get occasional inaudible or indiscernible was another one of like... Even then we can't work out-
Alan: It is a UK base company?
Jack: I'm assuming the transcribers are not UK based would be my guess because it's pretty cheap.
Alan: Fair enough.
Jack: It's cheap enough that we can use it on a weekly basis for this podcast, put it that way. And that kind of thing. Not only because I've been podcasting for something, I'm conscious of how I talk and like you said, the um's and the uh's and the vocal ticks, everybody has connective words that they use to give themselves time to think and then move on to the next sentence, but they don't want to leave that silence because you're on a podcast, so you've got to think about that connective words. And you mentioned there the transcriptions, including that stuff is quite unusual from my experience with podcast transcriptions. I will edit that stuff out in the edit anyway, let alone when it comes around to them editing. If I stumble at the beginning of my sentence saying, "Oh, this is Alan and he's the guest on the show," they will edit out that first, "this is," otherwise the whole show would just be chaos. The whole transcription would be chaos.
Jack: That sounds even from my little experience of editing transcripts over the last couple of years like a massive amount of work even after it's transcribed, going through that stuff and looking at it and trying to understand a full conversation like note for note, word for word, sound for sound, phoneme for phoneme sounds exhausting.
Alan: Yeah, because talking about they wanted 300 pairs in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. So you're talking 600 people officially and three hours each. So 1,800 hours by tree. So you're talking over 5,000 hours to be transcribed and an hour of transcription is not an hour's work. So you can take up to two and a half hours for a newbie to transcribe an hour of spoken stuff.
Jack: Oh my god.
Alan: Yeah. And then throw in that-
Jack: So 10,000 hours, 11,000, 15,000 hours maybe? Crazy!
Alan: And then throw in the fact that you want the most undesirable accents. So we either had to all the country colleges, add them, put it up on their forums and send out email blasts. "Hey, if you're bored during COVID give this a try. It might work for you."
Jack: Do you have a quirky accent? Come on in!
Alan: People, do you want to improve your voice assistants?
Jack: Yeah. So was there a particular kind of process? Did the process differ between the three different countries or was it a standardization across the three of Welsh, Scottish, Irish and benchmark it across the board?
Alan: No, it worked really... So Ireland was definitely a lot easier because we had a lot more contacts to reach out to. Unfortunately, we didn't get many end results, but from talking locally with people over the last two years, voice assistants has gotten better for the milder voice, for the milder accent. Milder accent. Yeah, that works.
Jack: Yeah. More neutral, milder. That makes sense. You got strong and mild accents, I guess?
Alan: Well, you also have to remember that slang doesn't really come into it. So voice assistants are training us as much as we're training them to do our things.
Jack: Yeah. I guess the way people search, we are aware that we're doing that search right. So you almost consciously speak in a way that you think the machine would understand, I guess in a way?
Alan: Exactly. Because there's not more frustrating than to have it come back and say, "I'm sorry. I did not understand. Can you repeat that?" So we are being trained to think and search rather than to think as we would naturally. So like, "Hey, assistant. Can you set a timer? Yes, I can set a timer." Rather than, "Hey, assistant, can you tell me when my eggs are ready?" Because it's not clear though.
Jack: Yeah, exactly. And weirdly enough, I think we have that habit. Now, we've been using search engines as a society and as a culture and as a species for so long. I have noticed the evolution of my own way of searching just in general, let alone without voice search. I know that I will get, especially now working as an SEO for four or five years being aware that if I type this specific combination of words, it's ever so slightly different to this. I would never type out a full sentence. You tend to be like Jack Chambers-Ward height, not how tall is Jack Chambers-Ward like. You go for the shortest, most succinct way of doing it. And the way we search and the way I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who has a 11-year-old daughter, I think, and she's starting to use search engines for the first time, and I was like, "I am going to pick your brains about this because I'm fascinated." Let alone generation Z. This is generation alpha, even younger, how they are interfacing with technology and how they search in different ways. And my mind was just blown like, "Oh yeah, they instantly just typed in three different words in an order that I would never have thought of. How would you even notice?" She's like, "I don't know."
I was like, "Okay, that's fascinating." She's grown up with touchscreens and stuff and iPads around tablets that she can use for games and stuff. So I think she's being aware of technology in a way that I... I grew up without the internet for... I don't know if that's the same as you, Alan, for the first 10, 15 years of your life, you didn't have a mobile phone or whatever. And then I find that fascinating how much it's changed.
Alan: I had my first computer and internet access when I was 14. It had four gigs of hard drive. Not RAM, a hard drive. And three of it was taken up by Windows XP so that it was less terrible than it actually was. But yeah, it's crazy to think that we went to the first four... If you want to use internet, you have to sit down at your computer and you could literally ask it the most basic things. But now kids are like... I've seen parents hook up rigs that are crammed so that their kids can just watch cartoons on YouTube while they push them. I was like-
Jack: Oh my God.
Alan: Yeah, I know. That's where we're living now. It's like fair enough growing up and leaving your kid in front of the TV while you go there, the shops, but taking your kid and leaving them in front of the cartoons is crazy.
Jack: Yeah. That's so fascinating to me. I think the way you put it earlier was like as much as we are programming search and technology, technology is reprogramming us in so many ways as well, right?
Alan: Yeah, it really is. It's going to be a very big question over the next couple of years. I was also reading a fantastic book about a man who completely detached himself from all electricity in the middle of nowhere in Ireland. His girlfriend left him, but it's really no surprise although he did build a savage jacuzzi.
Jack: What more do you need in life, right?
Alan: If you live with electricity, that's got to suck, but at least you can sell a jacuzzi because washing with hot water, for Christ... He's still going with this, so it's been about three or five years.
Jack: Well, let's go back to technology and electricity. So we've got the manual translations going on, stuff like that. What was the next stage in that project coming from, you've got the, like you said, over 5,000 hours of stuff to transcribe. You're going through transcribing that stuff. How does that then go back into the voice assistants and help them to understand different accents, different pronunciations and stuff like that?
Alan: So the next stage of the process was to feed in the transcription and the audio into the computer to allow it to digest what these sounds actually mean in written context so that they can fully understand whether or not they're saying Marta or martyr to really be able to tell the difference whether or not you're asking for who was the first Protestant martyr to die in Brighton or whether or not you're asking to call Marta. Sorry, me and Sarah have a personal joke about the first martyr who died in Brighton. Feeding that all in and letting the computer digest it takes an incredibly long time. So if you just happen to have 5,000 hours of regional accents, with transcription lying around because you've done the podcast on it and you're rededicated to transcriptions, that would be fantastically helpful. But you're still looking at a very slow process of feeding it into the computer and letting it digest it. Essentially is the best way to say it, because in animation you would say it's rendering because it's applying the finishing touches, it's processing, it's going through all the processes that it's hard to articulate because it's hard to know what's really going on in the back. But yeah, that builds up this understanding or the AI, if you want to call it that to build upon. But thankfully, it's a job that you only have to do once.
Jack: Once it's learnt, then you can lean on the previous results once it's pro... Like you said, rendered and processed essentially. I'll go into a quote here from the Washington Post. Talking about the accuracy between native speakers and the differences and things like that. So:
“According to a study done with the Washington Post in collaboration with Pulse Labs, Google Home and Amazon Alexa had a 30% accuracy difference between native speakers versus those with accents with Spanish and Chinese being some of the most difficult accents for voice assistants to understand and Western US and Southern US being the easiest.”
Kind of what we were saying earlier where it's like those are the people that are doing a lot of the programming that makes sense.
“Another study by Uswitch compared 30 different British accents. So coming round to the UK once again with funnily enough, Cardiff, Wales and Glasgow, Scotland being the hardest. And Scotland overall having the lowest accuracy per nation across the UK.”
Because for those listeners who don't know Scottish accents, if you've heard a Scottish Accent, it's usually one of the milder ones. You've probably heard Edinburgh or Glasgow and probably nothing else apart from that. That's about as hardcore as it gets in TV and movie and stuff. As soon as you get into the Highlands, you get to Dumfries and Dundee stuff gets wild pretty quickly.
Alan: Edinburgh’s easily understandable. If you've understood a Scottish person, they're from Edinburgh.
Jack: "Posh Scottish" as a lot of people call it. Edinburgh is the posh Scottish.
Alan: Definitely haven’t been Edinburgh...
Jack: At least the accent. At least the accent.
Alan: Well, no, Edinburgh is a beautiful traditional city and it is one of my favorite haunts. There and Berlin and Budapest, but the accents after you leave Edinburgh, it just gets mind-boggling. I'm trying to think of any Irish accents that are as hard to understand as Scottish, but Scottish is just in its own class.
Jack: There's a couple, so I've been to Ireland a couple of times, have some Irish friends and stuff like that. There's two that spring to mind that I always point out. Again, me being a big accent nerd, I've pointed out to my wife before when I was at university, I lived with someone from Enniskillen which for those of you who don't know is the between Northern Ireland and Ireland literally on the border and they have the weirdest hybrid accent of Irish and Northern Irish happening at the same time. For those listeners out there go and Google Enniskillen, which is, I think, it's E-N-N-I-S-K-I-L-L-E-N. Go and Google that and find out the accent. I'm sure there's clips on YouTube. I'll include one in the show notes if you want to go and check it out. It is the weirdest accent. And I was like, "yeah, they're from Northern Ireland. That's fine." They're not from Northern Ireland. They're also Irish and it's a weird hybrid thing. And you mentioned the martyr thing with the hard R, the Cork accent is notorious for that kind of stuff, right?
Alan: I was going to say, Cork is probably... Yeah.
Jack: Cork with the real hard R.
Alan: It's like Sarah once had to do a business trip down in Cork as she never tells the story because she hate selling the story, but she went to a shop. That's where the bus stop was. A local guy came up to her and asked her three times how she was doing and they got really angry and walked off. And she turned around to the another lady going, "What the hell just happened?" And he was like, "Shoot. He was asking you how you were doing, love." Because Cork, they have this insane reason they have to speak insanely fast and also incredibly high-pitched as if they're on the helium and then end every sentence in... which just makes them very easy to tease. For anyone listening, anyone familiar with the infamous Rubberbandits from Ireland. They're supposedly from Limerick, but they're actually from small town in Cork called Bantry which is precisely where that accent is from.
Jack: I'll put a link for that in the show notes as well as you go and check out the Rubberbandits, folks. So going through, we've got some weird accents from around the UK and Ireland and going through from Scotland all the way through to the... Again, the Welsh accent gets pretty crazy as well where you're deep down in the valleys or up near the north. And the closer you get to Liverpool, the more Scouse the Welsh accent gets. That's a whole other weird thing. Again, somebody I know from university had a weird Scouse-Welsh accent that was a very confusing to me at the time.
Alan: I was going to say Welsh would've been one of the easier ones, but I think I was hanging out with some people from Cardiff, which could have been why their Welsh was very easy because it was very slow and lully. Very peaceful.
Jack: The Aberystwyth accent is the one a lot of people think of when it's that. It's very sing-songy, it’s Aberystwyth. It's very up and down and da, da, da, da. That kind of thing. I'm sure I've offended a bunch of Welsh listeners. I'm sorry, listeners, if you're out there watching me doing a terrible Welsh accent. But that is kind of the typical kind of pace and speed and like you're saying certain, even outside of accents, the speed that you talk and how machines are able to understand that you can speak too quickly for a machine to understand to you, if it's not trained correctly and it's not understanding.
So even outside of just accents and languages and stuff, the actual speed that you are talking matters as well. And some nations, some parts of the world speak much quicker than others. I noticed whenever I'm trying to understand another language, it always seems super, super fast of like, "Oh, I try..." I remember learning French in high school and being like, "God, French people speak so quickly. It seems unbelievable." And then people come over to England like, "Oh my God, you English people speak so quickly." Because you're not familiar with that accent and with those typical sounds in that language, it seems so quick and so fast. I guess that plays a factor in it as well. That must be difficult for transcribers to maybe even slow down the process and go through that part of it as well.
Alan: Thankfully, I wasn't part of the transcription team, but I did have a couple of our staff helping out on it because it was such a massive undertaking. They said it was actually really mildly paced because everyone knew they had to sit there for... You could have done three one-hour calls or six-half-an-hour calls, but most people were like, "You know what, instead of watching a movie tonight, let's just bring each other and get our money." So no, seriously, people were like, yeah. A couple of people did it twice just so they could get extra money.
Jack: Just do a slightly different accent. This is Welsh Jack and Scottish Jack.
Alan: Not even because by the end of the deadline when it fell on my plate, the deadline, the original deadline was a week away and they had barely gotten half of what they needed. So, rules were relaxed to allow anything to just finally get it over the line.
Jack: You just need to get that data across, right?
Alan: Yeah, essentially. Christ, people were really... Because we sent it out to some recruitment agencies for bar staff and one-off events because during COVID they were getting no work, so we were like, "Yep, if you want to offer this out to your team, to your people, feel free." And they were only going to be paid if they reached a certain percentage of people that could fully undertake it. Some of them were really angry when they couldn't hit the quotas because of technical issues or because people just weren't interested, which is mind-boggling because COVID, what else were you doing?
Jack: Getting paid to talk sounds good to me as a podcaster.
Alan: Yeah. Well, surely you'd be sick of it though.
Jack: So we've got it kind of programmed in. Like you said, we've processed and rendered the different accents and stuff like that. How much did you see the improvement from before and after the process and the project, right? How are those voice assistants now reacting to the training?
Alan: I don't actually have feedback or input for you, from it.
Jack: Oh no!
Alan: I’m really sorry!
Jack: Not a problem.
Alan: That's above my pay grade. I asked for it because it was such an interesting project, but they can’t release this shit. We're talking about, it was one of the three big ones. You got Alexa, Google assist, Siri. Yeah. It was one of those three. So obviously they're not keen on sharing. They'll happily take it.
Jack: Not knowing for handling data carefully. They'll take your data but not share it back.
Alan: Yeah. Which is why myself, I don't use voice assistance whatsoever because you just stop trusting them. It’s creepy to have it listening to you.
Jack: There's that whole thing of like, "Oh, they're not always listening." Well, if it's not, then how would it know that you are saying the activation word? It must be-
Alan: Yeah, right?
Jack: Picking up the data somewhere. If it's not listening, then it will never hear you. This will just turn off the microphone and not have a thing.
Alan: Besides, anything I needed to do, I can do myself like set an alarm.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely.
Alan: I've been in friends' homes who overly rely on it and it bugs the crap out of me. It's like just get out of your chair and turn on your timer or play music. You don't need to shout it in the middle of our conversation.
Jack: Yeah. I think there's almost like a rebellion against that at the moment. Especially music is what triggered my thought process there of me and my wife are very into collecting records and stuff now, and there is a nice old school ritualistic kind of thing of getting up, having to flip the disc and changing it all and all that kind of stuff. There is more of a conscious effort. It's more of an active thing of you were actively listening to this piece of music or this album, whatever it is, rather than, I don't know, okay, assistant, play whatever is on Spotify. I don't care.
Alan: Trust me, I've got my own collection and there is nothing like going through your records and pick a one that you truly love that's truly special to you. Whereas you can go on Spotify and you have literally every song in the world. It's like overbearing. It's too much.
Jack: Yeah. I find that so often as well of shuffle everything, I guess. I don't know. A friend of mine, funnily enough has one playlist in all of his Spotify that is every song he has ever liked in the last 14 years or however long he's had a Spotify account. And that makes me deeply uncomfortable because I have to have one.
Alan: How does he find new music though?
Jack: I've told him like, "Hey man, go and listen to this band." And I'd be like, "Okay, cool. I like this one song." On to the playlist, it goes. I'm like, "Weird, weird."
Alan: In a way it's genius because if you can look at the dates when these songs are added, then you basically have his musical life.
Jack: Oh, that was my big breakup. Yeah, I remember that. And then there was this thing. It was that holiday I went on and I listened to all this different music for six months or whatever.
Alan: His life to music. That's actually a crappy idea.
Jack: I'm seeing him tonight to record another podcast, so I'll mention that to him. Maybe I should release his entire-
Alan: It's very high fidelity.
Jack: He has incredibly eclectic taste in music, so I think it'll be quite the journey as well.
Alan: There's a word in... This is completely off-topic. In High Fidelity the movie, there is a word he uses for when he arranges his entire vinyl collection to be a soundtrack of his life, but I can't think of it from life of me. It's like chronological episodical. It's one of those.
Jack: Yeah. Chronological would make sense, right?
Alan: Yeah. Does chronological refer to the timeline as the albums were published?
Jack: Yes. So chronological order would be as they were published timeline of the releases, I guess.
Alan: Yeah, no. What I'm referring to is an episodic timeline based on his life.
Jack: Oh, right. So when he was-
Alan: So when I was 14 I discovered The Cure.
Jack: Right. So it's in the timeline of his life, not in the time of the publications. Like an autobiographical timeline kind of thing, right?
Jack: Oh, cool. Cool. So we programmed all of the stuff in. Unfortunately you didn't get the final data, but what were the big takeaways you had from that project going forward in the years following apart from I don't use voice assistants. I don't trust them, which is a good lesson to learn nonetheless.
Alan: So the main takeaways that I can come across with is that translation agencies should never be trusted with marketing projects or tech projects because most of the time they don't really know what they're selling or what they're saying yes to, but if you're offering them money, they'll say yes to it eventually, especially if it involves accents or dialects because they like those things. But yeah, don't offer big tech projects to translation agents. And that's one main takeaway. Other takeaways are people are... 50 quid is not worth what it used to be because people like if you offer 50 quid, when I was in college to sit around for three hours to talk to someone, I absolutely would've done it.
But you offer people 50 quid during COVID and they're like, "Eh, we're getting free money from the government." So more free money to do stuff. “I have to download an app and put it in information?” They were serious. You're paying though. You did it and people were so reluctant. We only needed three hundred people and they got to pick their own friend. It's not like, "Here, Jack, you're going to talk to Sue from a accounting about her cats for three hours. No, Jack, you get to pick your favorite person to talk to for three hours." It was infuriating. Transcription is not a career you take without knowing what you’re getting into, it's awful. That is a job that should go to machines and then be reviewed by people because dear God, it is almost as bad as a professional copying and pasting. I had the girls show me how it works and thankfully, again, COVID they were bored, so they were like, "Eh, money." But dear God no, it's awful, awful, awful job. Any other takeaways? Hopefully because of all the heartache and it was one of those incredibly stressful times, probably one of the most stressful projects because of the comical deadline that we've ever done. And also we were worried that we weren't going to get paid for it because of deadline stuff. It was definitely one of the most stressful projects we've ever done, and we put out our own conference and it was definitely up there with that level of... We've put too much work in and we owe a lot of people money right now, so this cannot go wrong. So they're definitely my main takeaways. Hopefully for some people it has helped.
Jack: Steer them away from going into a career of transcribing.
Alan: No, seriously. Transcription is awful.
Jack: Don't do it, listeners. If you're thinking about a career in transcription, don't do it. That'll be the one lesson you learned from this podcast.
Alan: The main reason why transcription is so terrible is that they stopped making transcription software in 1996. So they're still using the same transcription software from 1996 and it has not had a facelift. It's being just pulled off of someone's hard drive from Windows 98. It's awful. It's so hard to use. It breaks and then you lose all your data. Someone needs to make a better transcription software and then maybe it'll be less terrible and then we can speed up the whole improving voice assistance calls, but for the time being while they're still using Windows, it was hands out the worst software I have ever used and I've been using computers for a long time.
Jack: That is saying something. I've seen behind the scenes of a couple of transcriptions, again, from the podcast side of things, and it does just look exhausting and not comfortable to work. Like you said, it just doesn't feel modern in any way. Just has a real, like you said, Windows 98 vibe to it.
Alan: It's like they just gave up on it because it's like no one wants to do this job. Why should we bother to make it better for them?
Jack: Exactly. Well, that wraps us up quite nicely on that note. Where can the listeners follow you, Alan, perhaps on social media, perhaps your website as well?
Alan: Yeah. You can find me on LinkedIn. I am the only Alan Presch in the world. Presch is spelled like preschool but without the -ool.
Jack: That is a brilliant way of explaining how to spell your surname.
Alan: Yeah. The German -sch is a challenge for a lot of people to comprehend that there is an S, and a C, and then a H, because most people, it's like, "Oh, no, is it S or is it C?" And then I had one Joker put in a Z.
Jack: Oh, interesting. I can see what they mean with the Czech kind of C-Z-E-C-H kind side to it. There are a lot of-
Alan: Oh, no, he was Irish.
Jack: That's even worse. There's no excuse. If he's Eastern European, then fair enough. There's lots of Z's and C's in it.
Alan: They like their Z's. Well, no, no. This guy was Irish and he was like, "Oh, just go with Z."
Jack: No, that's no excuse for that. No excuse for that.
Alan: No, that was harmless.
Jack: But listen, if you do want to follow Alan, go and search ‘Alan Presch’. I'll put links for both the website and your LinkedIn in the show notes. So do go and check those out, listeners. Thank you so much for joining me, Alan. It's been an absolute pleasure to have a chat with you.
Alan: Yeah. It's been great fun.
Jack: That about wraps us up for this week on Search with Candour. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you to Alan Presch for joining me on the show. It was a really interesting conversation about voice search, voice assistants, and accents as well. Things I'm very interested in my everyday life, as well as my SEO career.
Coming up in the next few weeks, I've got some fantastic, really interesting topics and guests. Everything from some PPC topics. That's right, folks. We're going to be talking some PPC coming up in the next few weeks, don't you worry.
Of course, BrightonSEO is coming up in the middle of September down in Brighton. That's from the 13th to the 15th of September. If you're listening to this and you haven't got tickets, well, get some tickets and then come and check out the live podcast I'll be doing. I'm doing a crossover special with the SEO mindset duo that is Tazmin and Sarah as we did back in April of 2023 as well. We'll be back in Brighton doing another crossover special all about managing your energy levels at conferences. So if you're thinking about attending BrightonSEO and you want to know more and get some tips and advice about how to manage your energy levels throughout the three days of attending the conference, I highly recommend you come and check us out. The link for that will be in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk.
Until next week, thank you once again for listening and have a lovely week.