Siri (imGenie Reborn) May 9, 2010Posted by Andre Vellino in Collaborative filtering, Information retrieval, Search.
It’s too bad we didn’t patent a few of the ideas we had at imGenie – 9 years ago. We might have made a killing 10 years later – assuming the recent iPhone app Siri is a hit. I expect it might not be, though, for some of the same reasons that imGenie didn’t succeed.
imGenie was a small Ottawa startup born from the demise of Nortel. You used to be able to find some references to it on Google as recently as 2 years ago and even on the Wayback Machine – but it appears to have entered a digital black hole now. The idea was: speak your commands to a voice-activated information retreival server and get your answer back on your cell phone.
Remember, this was before 3G services and way before the iPhone. Our prototype (that we built in ~ 3 months) used SMS as the channel for getting answers back to the client phone and a Jabber Instant Messaging interface from the server to generate the short messages. We used a Bevocal (now acquired by Nuance) service for the speech-to-text part and we rolled our own IR service. A collaborative filtering component was in there too as a method for making recommendations.
When our then CEO pitched the idea on an Report On Business (ROB) “meet the VCs” type of show (a precursor to Dragon’s Den) – the VCs really liked the idea and the team we had put together (100% of the development team had a Ph.D. in something or other!). But they nixed the pitch with the comment “cell phone companies can’t even provide phone service on the Don Valley Parkway – what makes you think they are ready for such advanced services”.
And the VCs were right, of course. imGenie was 5-10 years ahead of its time, as were a lot of ideas that were born of ex-Nortel engineers. It’s too bad, though. I think there is something to the idea of computer-aided collaborative decision making. But I doubt it’s the killer app for teens who need to decide which restaurant and movie to go to.