Episode Archives

The Alexa Presentation Language

Why Alexa Presentation Language might be the biggest news right now for voice apps?

For developers and anyone involved in the mobile revolution around 2010, anything that promises to work in different devices seamless is like a dream. That’s what Alexa Presentation Language is seducing us with: build interactive, multimodal Alexa skills and customize them for different Alexa-enabled devices. The language comes with tools for testing and a simulator. It’s like Amazon said we are going to do better this time. I have yet to try the feature but I’m already extremely excited about it. Optimized for Alexa-enabled devices, it also ensures that your skills can reach customers on Echo Spot, Echo Show, and Fire TV. You hear that, 3 devices with disparately screen sizes and shapes.

I love the reactions on Twitter too:




Still I don’t think a lot of devs are taking this as the huge step it represents for the future of voice applications. The finish line has been moved, is what devs will grow accustomed to and that’s a great thing. Building experiences powered by voice, visuals and touch is the true multimodal rich voice apps we all want.

This is what I love about Alexa and what Amazon is building: it’s a platform for others to build on, not as much a product. It is our product, what you build in it contributes to its base as much as the base itself.

If you are just hearing about Alexa Presentation Language, I sent in this week’s newsletter a guide about it that you need to check out.

I will come back to APL in a few months when the impact will have measured better and users report on their experiences.

Happy Saturday! My name is Mari, This is VoiceFirst Weekly flash briefing. You can find me on Twitter as voicefirstlabs or in Instagram as voicefirstweekly. Have a nice Friday and I’ll talk to you tomorrow!


Is Siri an enterprise product already?

I’m going to start saying it: I’m one of those who is not completely counting on Siri in the smart speakers race. After all, despite being one of the first in the market and having the mobile advantage (as I like to call it),  it doesn’t seem to catch up to the times, or have any interest to do so really. The recent Apple events have not release me from that thinking until the Salesforce partnership was announced. Is Siri an enterprise product?

ComputerWorld published an article yesterday that had a different view from other tech writers blasting on the assistant. The premise: Siri is already and enterprise product and here’s why, and goes on to explain in detail. I’ll spare you of those in this episode, the too long didn’t read line is about privacy and how Siri handles the requests. 

You may be the product, but enterprise users are not.

Implying that even if users are willing to give up privacy for other services, enterprise users are not.

This is what CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff ask to Siri in the demo of the integration during Dreamforce:

Hey Siri, update the opportunity information and reduce the customer success warning from Red to Green. Remind me in 2 weeks to follow up that all of our actions have now been completed. Send an email to the customer and thank them for buying lunch. And Play U2 ‘Beautiful Day’.

I’m all about the argument for privacy and clearly Apple is pushing hard on it. In the recent International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, Cook took a very strong strategic position over privacy. Blasting other big companies over recent scandals and management of user’s data. If this is going to be the only argument for Siri as an enterprise product, then let’s keep going with it. (Let’s clarify that I do agree to some extent to the premise of the article, to the extent that I don’t is the following).

Google and Facebook are the [big] companies recently involved in user’s data scandals and probably the ones you could argue collect the most data from users for their core business. However, individual users trust Google every day with countless of services and more data, companies do the same (Gmail 1.5 billion users?, Google Cloud, etc).

Amazon on the other hand, is the first cloud services provider and enterprises already trust their most important assets to AWS Services. The API model is here to stay, probably an overdue statement at this point, but follow me here, and the fact that to build for Siri you have to explicitly partner with Apple, as opposed to build and launch an Action or Skill might be a problem to consider too. Note that I didn’t mentioned how Siri perform compared to other smart assistants which can open another line of thoughts.

Is Siri an enterprise product? It seems so per Salesforce integration. But I think there is a bigger question here and it’s will privacy matter so much to influence that much in the market of smart assistants?

Love when questions lead to more questions.

My name is Mari, This is VoiceFirst Weekly flash briefing. You can find me on Twitter as voicefirstlabs or in Instagram as voicefirstweekly. Have a nice Friday and I’ll talk to you tomorrow!

Conversational forms, adios web forms?

I enjoy filling up those forms.

Say no one ever.

How does the future of forms – including lead forms, government services forms- will look like, how collecting data will change when conversational interfaces are more mainstream among users? This is a question that has been in my head for a few months now.

We are leveling up computing and devices with conversations, the most human of all traits, and once users are there is going to seem anachronic to ask a user to fill a regular form on your website, let alone on mobile where is even harder. But is it this future that far ahead as it sounds?

Web forms are the building elements of the web, with the links being the connected brain. Forms made the web the place to extract information at scale, for services to be completely online and for the advent of SaaS and automatization of business operations at internet scale (And search, social media, etc).

Forms are about controls modification where the controls vary between input, checkboxes, radio buttons etc. Controls usually follow a visual pattern that contributed to its spreading. It has evolved so much that we now enter our credit card information in forms almost in a daily basis.

The problem is form data is structured and conversational deals with unstructured language and structured data. It might seem simple to fill some slots, until the complexity of handling the multiple ways users can refer to the same thing comes into play. Nonetheless, it’s completely possible, I will argue that is necessary as we move into more conversational interfaces and voice activated systems that the ways we collect information from users change as well.

I did a quick research of the current state of conversational in substitution of web forms or services that provide new ways of doing what we usually do today in the web with forms. I should stop here and clarify that you can also completely replace web forms with chatbots or voice apps.

So, in essence, we have 2 points for capturing information: what is known as conversational form pattern like this:

or by chatbots and voice applications. After all, every voice application is filling up some data on the user.

This is are the services you can use to transform your forms to conversational today:

Fobi is a service by Zoi.ai that allows you to turn any Google Form into conversational, you only need the URL of the form and Fobi will ask customization questions and voila, you have a Url with a bot for your form that submits the responses directly to Google Form results.

Conversational form is an open source project developed by SPACE10 that turn webforms into conversations. You can include Conversational forms in your websites with an npm package or directly including the JS script tag. You can find a live demo here

Typeform has as part of their labs conversations, which is not a web form replacement per se but more a way to turn web content into conversations. I read the an article they did as an example (can’t find the link) and I really didn’t liked it. It felt it was in the middle of the content.

The marketing platform Drift provides now LeadBot to replace your lead forms in what is called conversational marketing.

In all honesty, I hate all these sites popping up a chatbot to ask me questions that I haven’t asked or need and then when I do ask something they don’t have the answer. It seems the developers and designers were so focused on the welcoming experience and telling me I have been there already that planning for the things that I might actually need got overlooked. Apparently, this is not a high regarded opinion. Acquire in their Top 7 reasons why chatbots will replace your contact forms listed as number one the preemptive ability of chatbots. For me that’s a strength and a weakness if not used correctly:

The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations. –

Roy H. Williams

Now to be truly game changing your bot can not be as static as a web form. I was just testing a web form that wouldn’t move past requiring my email for something totally unrelated to the form. If it’s optional, it should be able to move around it, as we move in conversations when we feel the other side doesn’t want to disclose something. No one asks the same question over and over and refuse to move forward unless is an interrogation, then you have bigger problems.

Note that large forms with complex data I think is better if it has a visual component as aide to it. What I think conversational will provide value for large inputs is providing the smart. Have you ever have had to fill the same information in different forms in the same website? I’ll take that as a yes, we all had to. There’s a lot of ground to cover but conversational forms are here to stay or evolve into conversations only. And I’m here for it.

I’m Mari, short for the legendary and unique Marisniulkis, This is VoiceFirst Weekly daily briefing, you can find me on Twitter as @voicefirstlabs and on Instagram as @voicefirstweekly.

You have a great day and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Oracle voice assistant and voice in the enterprise

Oracle announced recently the launch of the Oracle Digital Assistant for companies, an AI assistant built to help employees handle things like enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), or human relations needs in a conversational setting.

After the news, Brian Roemmele, tweeted how Oracle joining the voice wagon marked completed the list of big companies he predicted will be in voice by this year. The companies in the list are:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Oracle
  • Salesforce
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Facebook

And the prediction said:

The first wave of Voice First devices will likely come from these companies with consumer grade and enterprise grade systems and devices.

And indeed we have come full circle. Brian article was from 2016, only two years ago. It’s has been said that voice is the faster ever growing technology. And I would say that is the faster to enter the enterprise world. Almost all the companies in the mentioned list, except notably for Facebook and Samsung offer enterprise solutions with conversational interfaces. 

You might tell me well it’s not widely adopted yet. True, but the offerings are starting to pop and it’s clear that every big company is betting on voice and some extending the bet to the enterprise. I believe voice technologies, and all the other computing developments we are going to see derived from it are the next frontier in our interaction with computers. And I will continue reporting on it and bringing to you my thoughts on it.

This is VoiceFirst Weekly daily briefing, you can find me on Twitter as @voicefirstlabs and on Instagram as @voicefirstweekly./ You have a great day and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Read along with Google Home Mini and Disney’s Little Golden Books

I had to come back with a news related to Disney. I had to. You all know by now that I consulted as a software engineer with Disney while in South America and it was a tremendous experience. Just yesterday Google announced story time experiences: interactive stories in partnership with Disney. TechCrunch article presents the fundamentals:

  • The new story time experiences will work with a selection of Little Golden Books.
  • The titles currently available are Moana, Toy Story 3, Coco, Jack Jack Attack, along with classics like Peter Pan, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Three Little Pigs, Mickey Mouse and his Spaceship, and Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
  • The stories will be available this week alongside Google Home Mini devices in stores like Walmart, Target and Barnes & Noble.
  • To get started, you say, “Hey Google, let’s read along with Disney.”

Is there a better storytelling company than Disney? Disney is eating the world, and not only the children world. What better way to incentivize users to buy Google Home and Mini devices than relying on a known emotional connection to Disney stories that transcends several generations, just ahead of the holidays?

Two things I want to touch on:

I have talk here how voice tech and smart assistant state now is so complex, for a number of reasons, one being at any time any of the companies (Google, Amazon, Apple, et all) with the smart assistants can release something that take away what startups are doing, in this case this is similar to what Tellables and Novel Effects are offering today. Obviously is not exactly the same, but you get the gist. the can come and eat you for breakfast pretty quickly. No exactly encouraging let’s say.

The second point is how the experience is more “alive”, it has the Little Golden Books, along with the experience in the Home and Home Minis. Which can make it like it’s not about the Assistant at all, but about the story and the parents reading to kids. A very good marketing campaign

Will these points drive sales for Google Assistant Home and Mini this holiday season? We are so close, let’s see. I’m excited with the announcement

I was a guess at This Week in Voice in last week episode number 6 of their 3rd season. I had a great time with Bradley and Kane and Dustin from VUX.World.

In related news VoiceFirst Weekly will be present in the next Alexa Conference to be held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in January 15-17, 2019. Hope to meet you there and chat about voice technology.

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate when you guys mentioned that you listened to one episode or that something resonated with you. It’s my oxygen to keep this going.This is VoiceFirst Weekly flash briefing and my name is Mari. Have the best Tuesday you can have today and I’ll talk to you tomorrow about the Oracle entering the voice wagon.