Now, online shopping is as easy as chatting with a friend. Introducing Say Shopping.

If you are a screen reader or other assistive technology user, and have ever felt overwhelmed navigating an online shopping destination, then you may have turned to a smartphone app instead. Often, the main retail shopping sites are visually cluttered and can lack some useful markup that allows for screen reader users to quickly identify and navigate to necessary links and buttons. Many smartphone apps provided by retailers offer a user experience that is more streamlined, and therefore more efficient, due to the limited number of options available as compared to their huge web sites. Unfortunately, some of these same retailers have app’s that can be as confusing as their full site counterparts, since the limits imposed by app size and scope can leave little room for ubiquitous help, thereby reducing intuitive functionality.

Now, thanks to a new technology developed by Conversant Labs, using your smartphone to shop online is as easy as chatting with a friend. Say Shopping is an iOS app that enables users to interact with a retail establishment, in this case, Target Stores, by using natural language. Chris Maury, founder of Conversant Labs, sat down with me for a fascinating discussion of the Say Shopping app, algorithms, and natural language processing technology. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to listen to the audio interview with Chris that I posted for the Fashionability Channel.

LL: What is meant by “natural language processing,” and how have you furthered this technology in the Say Shopping app?
CM: Natural Language Processing or NLP allows a computer to understand the meaning behind the words people use. NLP has a wide range of uses from understanding whether someone is happy or sad or understanding that when they say “I ran out of toilet paper” they’re probably looking to buy more.
With Say Shopping we’ve taken NLP and applied it to the realm of shopping, and by doing so made it really easy for people to shop using their voice (something that’s never been possible before).

LL: Your technology will allow eyes-free, and eventually, hands-free interaction with other apps and devices. Where do you see the future of the technology headed?
CM: In the next year or so, we are finally going to see voice interaction move beyond simple virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. With new products and services like Apple’s Carplay and the Amazon Echo, we are finally seeing devices where it is much easier to interact with them using voice than it is using touch. With these new products we’ll start to see more exciting features for voice-based services; Say Shopping and being able to shop online is just one example. Soon we’ll be able to read and follow recipes while we cook, order an Uber, and manage our email all from a voice client. And we’re building the tools that developers are going to need to create these new, voice-driven experiences.

LL: What can users expect from this first release of Say Shopping? Will there eventually be other retailers or use cases for your technology?
CM: You can search through Target’s entire product catalog, hear about product details and customer reviews, and order any products that Target will deliver to your house. We’re working to add the ability to order for in-store pickup as well which will open up shopping for groceries as well.
We want to make the best shopping experience possible for our users, so we want to make sure they have options in what they are shopping for and where they are buying from. We also want to bring Say Shopping to as many people as possible, so we are looking at supporting other platforms besides the iPhone such as Apple’s Carplay.

LL: How can other developers or potential licensees get involved in creating new platforms for the technology?
CM: We are finishing up work on our Say Kit Software Development Kit (SDK) which we used to build Say Shopping. We want as many people as possible building voice based experiences into their apps. We will be releasing the first version of the SDK in the coming months, but if developers are interested in getting early access they can reach me at chris@conversantlabs.com.

LL: Is Say Shopping available now? Where can readers find it?
CM: Say Shopping is available now from the Apple App Store. Download the app by following this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sayshopping/id969106932?ls=1&mt=8

You can learn more about the app at sayapps.com

LL: Anything else you’d like Accessible Insights readers to know?
CM: Say Shopping is still early in it’s development. We wanted to get it out there as soon as we could while providing something that people would find useful. There is still a lot we want to do with the app, and there is still a lot we can do to make it better. So if you have any ideas on how to make the app better, please let us know.

LL: I also want readers to know that Chris will be attending the National Federation of the Blind 75th annual convention the week of July 6th, 2015. You can find him bouncing between the booth for Target Stores, B43-44, and the Elegant Insights Braille Creations booth C6. You can try out the app, ask questions, and learn more about the technology. To hear a demo of the Say Shopping app, check out the interview I conducted with Chris for the Fashionability Channel podcast at http://fashionabilitychannel.wordpress.com/.

More about Chris Maury:
Chris was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Degeneration in 2011 and has been working in the accessibility community ever since. He is also the
co-organizer of the Pittsburgh Accessibility Meetup a group with 200
members discusses how to make the world around us more accessible to people across disabilities. This group has met monthly since it’s founding in 2013 and covers topics from accessible sports to emerging accessibly technologies from universities and companies alike.

Get in touch with Chris:
Website: Sayapps.com
Twitter: twitter.com/@cmaury
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Conversant-Labs/438191096263041

See you in Orlando, everyone.

LL

The Fashionability Channel will soon be on the move!

Humbly, I come to you, hat in hand, to ask your forgiveness for my abysmal level of contribution to the Accessible Insights Blog. My dedication to my readers has not diminished one bit, rather, it is that very dedication that has me working hard to bring you content in a variety of formats. Since I know many of you are wondering where on Earth I’ve been, I’ll just say that there really isn’t a single platform on which you cannot find me, it’s simply a matter of where I am at any given point.

Lately, I’ve put in a great deal of focused effort on my latest project, the Fashionability Channel, of which I am a co-founder. If you need to catch up, the Fashionability Channel is an audio podcast pertaining to all things fashion and style, for both men and women, people of all abilities, and all walks of life. It’s your guide to accessible style information, delivered to you via the AudioBoom platform by myself and my partner, Emily Davison, a UK-based blogger.

The Fashionability Channel has been a spectacular success. Thanks to all of you, we have some impressive stats, based upon just 30 or so posted shows. We have plenty more planned, with no signs of slowing our creative energy. We have, however, come to realize that it is time to make a change, to accommodate our rapid growth. In just a couple of months, we will be moving the channel from AudioBoom to a self-hosted platform.

The domains have already been purchased, the blog content is being relocated, and the audio media will soon be transferred over to our own RSS feed. While we have enjoyed using the AudioBoom platform, and appreciate all they have done to provide us with a simple way to reach our audience, they have also made some changes to their platform and terms of service that are in conflict with our goals. Please watch this space for more announcements as to our timetable, where you can find the new home of the podcast, and how you can listen without missing an episode. At some point, we will be requesting that you unsubscribe from the AudioBoom channel feed, and resubscribe to our new feed. We may still post to AudioBoom, if we can do this without too much complication, but we will be doing so through a chain of technical custody that may be tricky. We’ll let you know, as the move gets closer, the easiest way to transition to our new content feed.

In the meantime, we thank you for making the Fashionability Channel a smash, and we promise to continue to bring you much more stylish content!

You can listen here:

http://www.audioboom.com/channel/fashionability

Or via iBlink Radio:

http://www.serotek.com/iblink

Or, you can subscribe to our podcast via iTunes, or by way of our blog at:

http://www.fashionabilitychannel.wordpress.com

Finally, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @InclusiveStyle

LL