“When Do The Longhorns Play?”

– This post is from our head of design Jenni McKienzie. Go Longhorns! The Banter Team.

I am an unabashed Longhorn sports fan. Although I haven’t been to Austin to watch a game in years, I do like to keep up with my alma mater on TV. Back in the days when we still got the physical paper (which I admit didn’t end that long ago), this was easy. But now, if I want to see when they play, I have to launch an app, open the day’s e-paper, navigate to the right section. Bleh. Too much work. (Yeah, I know, first world problems.) This is a wonderful use case for smart speakers, when using a device is just enough work that you’d rather ask a question. And usually, it works great.

But something interesting happened when I asked for this information on January 7. For those of you that aren’t sports fans, a little background. Texas played in a bowl game on New Year’s Day which was the end of the football season. Basketball season is in full swing at that point.

I asked both Google and Alexa, “When do the Longhorns play?” Below are their responses. And yes, I’m purposely not saying which response came from which platform.

“UT Austin won 28-21 last Tuesday against Georgia.”

“Texas Football does not have any upcoming games scheduled.”

Interesting. They both defaulted to football (which is indeed the more popular sport) even though the season is over. If I’m asking when they play next, it’s a pretty safe bet that I know that. I honestly can’t decide which of the two responses annoyed me more as neither one was remotely useful to me.

I tried again with, “When’s the next Longhorn basketball game?” and got this:

“UT Austin will play Oklahoma State at 6PM tomorrow in Stillwater.”

“The Texas Longhorns basketball team will play tomorrow at 6PM away against Oklahoma State.”

So I eventually got what I needed, I just had to be more specific. Of the two responses, I vastly preferred the first. The second is less conversational with its direct parroting of the request and much wordier.

Fast forward to January 18. At this point we are well past the end of football season. I wondered if things were handled any differently, so I repeated the initial “When do the Longhorns play?” inquiry. Here’s what I got:

“Sorry, I don’t understand.”

“The Texas Longhorns basketball team will play tomorrow at 7PM at home against Oklahoma.”

And I thought the responses earlier in the month were interesting. They’ve both adapted to the fact that football season is over, but one did the expected thing and moved on to basketball, while the other more or less short-circuited. College sports requests are always assumed to be football, and it blows up if it’s not football season? Wow.

By the way, I did rephrase the question to ask specifically about basketball and got a valid response:

UT Austin’s next game is tomorrow at 7PM when they will be playing Oklahoma.

In the end I got what I wanted from each system on both dates, but it was a little more work than it should have been. But hey, at least I didn’t have to open an app. Or my laptop.

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