Google Action Disappearance Wider Than Previously Thought with Over 80% Gone From English, Korean, and Dutch But Some Now Returning
- On Wednesday, October 16th, several Google Action developers noticed that their Actions were no longer functional and their Google Assistant online directory pages were gone.
- Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, Action developers submitted support tickets to Google about the disappearing Actions, shared comments in Reddit and Slack groups and Vociebot contacted Google for an official explanation.
- Late Thursday, Google provided a post in a subreddit frequented by Action developers saying that there was a “comprehensive review” underway related to “developer policies.”
- Shortly after this, some developers that had submitted support tickets received a nearly identical message by email with one additional line saying, “Note this process may take up to a few weeks.”
- Voicebot conducted a partial analysis of the Google Assistant online directory and identified over 2,000 Actions that were available in January were no longer available. This published early morning October 18th.
- Shortly thereafter, Emiel Langeberg published a comprehensive global analysis showing the percentage of Actions available in August 2019 that were no longer available as of Friday, October 18th.
- As of the morning of October 19th, some Actions that had disappeared are now available, but many or most are not back online.
Editors Note: There is an update to this developing story here.
The Great Google Action Disappearance appears to have had a wider impact than previously understood. An analysis by Emiel Langeberg shows that more than 80% of Google Actions that were available in August 2019 had disappeared as of yesterday. The biggest impacts have been in Dutch, English, and Korean where respectively 85%, 83%, and 80% of Google Actions are suddenly unavailable. Japan also saw a drop of 76%.
However, many other languages were impacted significantly as well. The French, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish language Assistants all lost 50% or more of their Actions in a single day. Interestingly, the Thai Action directory increased between August and October. Langeberg speculates this is a function of the low number of Actions available in Thai and the fact that most of them are made by Google. He commented in a message to Voicebot:
“During the count on the 2nd of August, there were only 51 Actions in Thai, of which almost 30 were general Google Actions [that were made by Google]. The rest was probably 3rd party. On the 18th of October, there were 52 actions in Thai that I suspect are Google generated (they all are available in more than 9 languages). Only 4 actions are 3rd party on top of that [in Thai]. Because of the small numbers to begin with, the Thai language seems to have more actions [today], but actually, their 3rd party actions have been wiped out as well. It just doesn’t show in the numbers because the increase in Googles’ personal actions makes up for it.”
It is worth noting that no native capabilities of Google Assistant or Actions managed by Google (i.e. first-party Actions) appear to be affected. Langeberg mentions this as have other developers close the situation and Voicebot has not identified any that were affected. This is strictly an issue impacting third-party developers that support the Google Assistant voice ecosystem. Since Langeberg’s analysis includes both first and third-party Actions and no first-party Actions were impacted, then the figures above actually understate the impact on third-party developers.
Developers are in a Waiting Place
This incident has caused a mix of agitation and confusion among developers. There is agitation because the incident occurred without notice, Google’s response has appeared slow, and it doesn’t seem that it is being treated as a critical bug. Instead, the ecosystem seems to be held captive to a policy review that is unexplained and was unannounced. Or, there is something else afoot that Google doesn’t care to elaborate on at this time. Developers are confused because they don’t know what to do about their products, what to tell clients, how long the issue will last, or if there will be new requirements to get it resolved.
We are experiencing the same issue @bretkinsella. This outage is affecting our clients independence, it not just a nice to have! They use it to get through each day due to their mobility challenges! No communication from Google at all. #notcoolgoogle
— Novalte (@NovalteCA) October 18, 2019
our biggest Voxprotocol action down is Battle Tracks. Its' been operating in production on google assistant since July, been through over 20 diff. production submission approvals from google & we have PRO agreements for the music. Can't run a biz this way & we will be leaving.
— Voxprotocol (@Voxprotocol) October 19, 2019
A number of ours and our partners actions were affected. Even just as an Assistant user, a lot of the actions I use daily stopped working
— Alex Dunn 🔜 #SDC19 (@Suave_Pirate) October 18, 2019
Some Google Actions Already Restored
With that said, some Google Actions seem to be restored that were missing yesterday. CBS Sports, Tide, Quaker, and Levi’s were all missing-in-action yesterday, but now have listings again in the Assistant Action online directory and are accessible by voice. Langeberg’s data from this morning also points in this direction as it shows that thousands of English language Actions appear to have been restored in the past day. This is good news in that it appears Google can resurrect some Actions in their entirety rather quickly.
So, provided “the review” doesn’t find something that violates a policy, Action developers could fairly quickly see this issue resolved. If the issue was more than a review and was related to a bug, then these returns to the Action directory suggest a root cause may have been identified. The longer-term question is what this has done to developer trust in the ecosystem and its value to participants as discussed in this week’s Voice Insider.
Expect More Actions to Disappear Next Week Even While Some Return
It is interesting timing that this all came about the week before Dialogflow v1 is being deprecated. Dialogflow is a tool that many developers use for voice app authoring and natural language understanding customization and is operated by Google. That is expected to take place on October 23rd. All Google Actions that are not updated to Dialogflow v2 by that time will likely become unavailable going forward. So, we might see more missing Actions next week that were unaffected this week.
Editors Note: This story was updated at 2:15 pm EDT on Saturday, October 19th to include Langeberg’s comment on the reason for the Thai Google Action directory showing apparent growth and to cite his data also show that some Actions have been restored between Friday and Saturday as Voicebot had noted in its original analysis.
Editors Note 2: This story was updated at 3:55 pm EDT on Saturday, October 19th to clarify that Langeberg’s data includes all Actions, both first-party and third-party.