Sick of virtual assistants like Siri mangling your searches? Well, the new Ooloo app for iOS and Android dispenses with voice recognition and just sends your request to an actual human being.
Ooloo, which has been spun off from online backup service IDrive, will have staff on hand 24/7 to answer your questions. I’m curious how that cost structure will work for the fledgling app, but the startup will benefit from being supported by a company that’s already generating revenue.
To use the app, just tap to speak your question. If you want to get more specific, you can tag queries with specific categories. The assistants can take into account your location when preparing a response. Once Ooloo sends you the answer, you can rate it as Awesome, Good or Meh.
Sample queries provided by Ooloo include asking about authentic local restaurants in a new city, simple word translation requests, and the fastest route to the airport. It’s a lot like having a really patient friend on the other line who’s willing to Google stuff for you.
The first question I asked Ooloo was about plane ticket pricing. I got an answer quickly, but it was a follow-up question that I had no way to reply to, so I just resubmitted my question with more information. The same helper sent back a reply with some prices and a link to Google flight search a couple minutes later.
Ooloo’s answers aren’t much better than anything you could find on your own, but they do save you some time. The human element is a nice touch, too. I sent several questions in a row to test the app and got answers from the same assistant. When I asked about how to teach a toddler how to use a spoon, the reply included, “Yikes! Good luck with that one.”
Knowing that a human was answering my questions also made me think twice before asking silly or inane questions. That’s not necessarily a drawback, but it complicates the interaction. I found myself wanting to say thanks after asking my questions.
I can see myself using Ooloo to rattle off questions when I’m driving or for help finding local businesses when I’m out. It would also come in handy to answer the kind of factual disputes I have with friends that usually result in one of us turning to Wikipedia or IMDB.
I’m not opposed to a free app that puts someone at my beck-and-call, but I’m confused as to how this will scale. Adding the human element, actually takes a step backward from the artificial intelligence systems that tech companies have been trying to build. If it gains traction, OOLOO will have to hire like mad to have enough helpers to answer all the questions. There’s no clear business model at the moment, though an OOLOO rep did says that the new company has “different plans in mind” when it’s ready to move beyond user acquisition.