Month: September 2018

Amazon Alexa and sports stats

Amazon’s Alexa is getting smarter about sports — Just in time for the NFL season, Amazon has been stuffing Alexa full of sports knowledge. It can tell you the odds of the next NFL game and give you an update on your favorite teams. In the near future, Alexa will be able to give fantasy football fans updates on their players, and alert users when their teams are about to take the field.

Sports-related questions have become some of the most popular ones to ask Alexa in recent years, Jason Semine, principal product manager for sports information on Amazon’s Alexa team, said in an email.

Business Insider reports that the Alexa team has also been working to ensure that the intelligent assistant is able to respond to questions about sports events as they happen and to understand the context of particular inquiries.

“Our long-term goal is for Alexa to understand and be able to answer all questions, in all forms, from anywhere in the world.”

As you see, Amazon wants Alexa to be everywhere and to know everything. This is what having big goals means.

In recent weeks, Amazon has added a slew of new sports-related features to Alexa. Among them:

  • Answers to an assortment of trivia-related questions relating to sports history, records and statistics.
  • Updates on the latest injuries and transactions involving individual players or teams.
  • Predictions on who will win upcoming games, including the latest betting line.

But more importantly, Amazon will be more and more in your home, inserting the need in your life to ask all types of questions to their smart assistant, emphasis in sportswhich unites (or divides) us, but certainly always requires some data in the conversation. Pretty smart if you ask me.

Happy Sunday, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprises

The same week Salesforce announced their Einstein voice assistant ahead of their annual gathering Dreamforce, Microsoft launched Cortana Skills Kit for the Enterprise for developers, to help businesses create custom voice apps for their employees and users, at Ignite, their annual gathering. This was expected, given the company strong stance on the enterprise. I have mentioned before that I see at this time Microsoft strategy in voice tech seems to be more focused on providing AI tools to developers, and again, you know what I’m gonna say developers are the currency for today’s platforms.
Cortana Skill Kit is currently available by invitation only. Invitations for companies and developers will be made available in the future.
According to a programme manager on Cortana’s team, the platform is powered by the Azure Bot Service and leverages Language Understanding from Azure Cognitive Services, allowing developers to create company-specific skills for Cortana using known and trusted tools.
As a proof of concept, IT developers at Microsoft used the enterprise platform to create an IT help desk skill that enables Cortana to file tickets for employees who are having computer problems and connect them to someone who can help.

How voice is changing software development

I’m very passionate about the process of software development and how it affects the product cycle. I read a blog post about people with physical disabilities using voice tools to program, so I was excited when found this article about the influence of voice technology in software development. Let’s see some of the ways software development is being affected by voice.

  • New development agencies are seeing clients request more and more voice capabilities, as well as old applications being upgraded with voice-activated functionality. But at the same time a bad interaction is worse than none at all. Lars Knoll, CTO at The Qt Company have said that “A badly done voice integration is probably leading to a worse user experience than not having one at all.”
  • The other one is to have into account the differences between gui design and voice interface design. It will be increasingly needed that voice-oriented developers understand the basics of pattern recognition and machine learning. That being said, the underlying development principles remain pretty much the same, as well as having knowledge of popular programming languages. In a GUI, the user’s eyes and mouse movements have been trained over several years of behavior. As a result, voice development is as much a product design challenge as an engineering problem.
  • The third way software development is affecting development is the fragmentation of voice platforms. You’ll need to make choices about developing independently for each platform (and your priorities) or taking more of a one-size-fits-all approach. I talked about it in the Voice Space Fragmentation (
  • B2B companies, can’t ignore voice work much longer. With Salesforce announcement of Einstein voice assistant to their platform, plus Microsoft Cortana Skill Kit, plus voice assistants being more pervasive in the home, cars and mobile of users, there is only so long before users start asking: can I do it with my voice?  or why I can’t do it with my voice? 

There is also an increment in development tools available to code by voice, in combination with the advancements of speech to text recognition, we can see a new wave of tools, where you can have voice commands as actions that use speech to text for the actual code input. The Nature magazine has an interesting article I recommend you check in full: Speaking in code, it outlines how programmers from the Genome Aggregation Database (gnomAD) at MIT, which is used to explore genomic data are using voice coding to build web applications. “These applications share data from some of the largest sequencing studies in the world”

Coding by voice command requires two kinds of software: a speech-recognition engine and a platform for voice coding. Dragon from Nuance, a speech-recognition software developer in Burlington, Massachusetts, is an advanced engine and is widely used for programming by voice, with Windows and Mac versions available. There is also VoiceCode and Caster, the latter free and open source. This tools are not new, there’s a video of PyCon in 2013, demonstrating voice command. However, reportedly, the learning process of voice coding has a steep curve. You have to learn all the commands which turns out are not that natural. And if you have any throat problem it can become a challenge as well.

On the bright side, users report to think through very well before dictating any code, and we can be sure is a big benefit.

Voice technologies are soon to be part of the development process and not only result of it.

The Assistant Household feature

APK insights report that the latest beta of the Google app is rolling out this morning with a hint at the Pixel Stand. Other tweaks in version 8.22 include a new Sound Search widget, auto-downloading for Podcasts, and detailing the Assistant Household feature. Let’s see the changes for the Assistant app.

Google Assistant Household

As part of the Assistant settings redesign enabled last month, APK Insights spotted a Household feature for Google Home. Version 8.22 provides more details, including some of the roles and functionality. In general, the feature is aimed at helping your “family collaborate and communicate across devices with shared reminder, lists, message broadcasts, and more.”

As a “Family Manager,” users will be able to “Broadcast group messages, assign reminders, and share lists with up to 6 family members.

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_family_manager”>(Family Manager)</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_managing_subtitle”>”Broadcast group messages, assign reminders, and share lists with up to 6 family members”</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_managing_splash_screen_button_label”>Add family member</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_member_invitation_pending_state”>Unconfirmed</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_setup_splash_screen_button_label”>”YES, I’M IN”</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_setup_splash_screen_subtitle”>”Google Assistant helps your family collaborate and communicate across devices with shared reminder, lists, message broadcasts, and more”</string>

<string name=”assistant_settings_household_setup_splash_screen_title”>”Share, organize &amp; connect with your family”</string>

Google is moving to more household focused features, probably as a reaction of Amazon Alexa’s everywhere.

Is Podcast media dying?

Happy Thursday! Today is newsletter day! Every Thursday at 9:50 Pacific Time, our weekly issue is sent to your inbox. It’s filled with my commentaries of the best of the week and stuff I find interesting even if it didn’t make mainstream media in conversational interfaces, voice technologies and voice strategy and branding. If you haven’t subscribed yet do so at

Alright, moving on to today’s business.

Buzzfeed is cutting their podcast unit to focus on shows. The news came fast with some Twitter on layovers the same day last week. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal. Buzzfeed decision to cut its original podcasting staff comes in conjunction with the decision made the previous week, by the audio company Panoply. Audible Originals, the podcasting unit run by Inc.’s Audible audiobooks division, also laid off several employees earlier this year.

Apparently Buzzfeed is having problems keeping up with investors expectations in the advertising torment the industry is suffering from now. The Vice-President of News and Programming Shani Hilton said in a memo to stuff also reported by the Wall Street Journal:

We’ve decided to move to a production model that is more like our TV projects — that is, treating shows as individual projects, with teams brought on as needed.

These developments come as Audible and Buzzfeed reshapes its original programming strategy, alleging for more short-term programming or more Netflix-style shows.

As contrast the NYT Voyages issue will feature stories told through audio that correspond with full images without captions in the magazine”:

For the first time, the Times has produced a bonus crossword puzzle in which more than half the clues will feature audio clues.

Noting the company is experimenting with audio, not podcasts per se.

The founders of Gimlet Media, the narrative podcasting company, said in an episode by Recode Podcast that is expanding beyond original audio shows and into two newer businesses: Film and TV adaptations of their podcasts, such as a TV series reworking of the show Homecoming, now starring Julia Roberts, that will hit Amazon this fall; and branded podcasts, which are completely underwritten by a single sponsor.

Does this means that the podcast media is dying in favor of short-style stories or shows? What does this tell us about the state of podcast monetization at scale? Today I’ll leave you with more questions than answers. Partly because then I can come back and do another episode with the answers!

The truth is that the podcast industry is shifting and we need to watch how that plays out with content being created for smart assistants platforms.

Here are more resources to complement this subject:

You have a great day and we will talk tomorrow!