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Tag Archives: alexa

Scout.fm turns podcasts into personalized talk radio

Scout.fm wants to change the way people listen to podcasts. Instead of scouring through the over 500,000 available shows available in your current podcast app, this startup’s new curated podcast service will just ask you a few questions to find out what you like, then create a podcast station customized to you. The experience is primarily designed for use on smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices, but is also available as iOS and Android applications. The company was founded just over a year ago by Cara Meverden (CEO), previously of Google, Twitter, Indiegogo, and Medium; along with Saul Carlin (President and COO), previously Head of Publisher Development at Medium, and before that, Politico; and Daniel McCartney,  (CTO) previously an engineer at GrubHub, Klout and Medium. At Medium, Meverden explains, they saw an explosion of people creating great written content; but now those publishers had begun to create great audio content, as well. But unlike on Medium, which helps to guide readers to topics they like, people today have to seek out new podcasts for themselves. Scout.fm wants to offer a better system, and hopefully bring more listeners to podcasts as a result. “We want to take  podcast listening mainstream ,” she says. “W e think the key to that is making podcasts as easy   to listen to as the radio –   and we think that’s even more critically important, a s we enter the smart speaker era .”  The Scout.fm service began as a series of experiments on Alexa. The company launched over 30 Alexa skills, including a “Game of Thones”-themed podcast radio that was popular while the show was airing on HBO. The goal was to test what worked, what topics and formats drew listeners, and gain feedback through calls-to-action to participate in user surveys. The result is Scout.fm, a curated podcast service that’s personalized to your listening preferences – and one that improves over time. Here’s how it works on the Alexa platform. You first launch the app by saying “Alexa, open Scout fm.” The app will respond (using a human voice actor’s voice, not Alexa’s) by explaining briefly what Scout.fm does then asks you to choose one of three types of talk radio stations: “Daily news, brain food, or true stories.” The first is a news station, similar to Alexa’s “Flash Briefing;” the second, “brain food,” focuses on other interesting and informative content, that’s not day-to-day news; and the last is a true crime podcast station. The voice app will then ask you a few more questions as part of this setup process to find out what other subjects appeal to you by having you respond, on a scale of one to ten, how much of a history buff you are, or how much you’re interested in culture, like art, film and literature, for example.

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Amazon will now directly pay top Alexa ‘kid’ skill developers in the U.K. and Germany

Amazon is expanding its program that pays developers directly for their top-performing Alexa skills, by now offering these “developer rewards,” as they’re called, to those based in the U.K. and Germany who publish “kid” skills. This emerging skill category was one of the last to be included in the developer rewards program, which already offered payments for top skills in over half a dozen other categories, including Education & Reference; Food & Drink; Games, Trivia & Accessories; Health & Fitness; Lifestyle; Music & Audio; and Productivity. The developer rewards program quietly launched just over a year ago , as a way to encourage developers to build voice apps for Alexa before the ecosystem had expanded to include support for other monetization options like the in-app purchases and subscriptions offered today. The program helped to seed Amazon’s skill store with more content, while also rewarding quality apps that gain traction with consumers. The initiative has seemingly had an impact – Alexa is now adding 5,000 new skills every 100 days, and reached over 30,000 in the U.S. as of March. Amazon says today it has since paid out “millions” to developers in 23 countries as a result of this program. Some individual voice app developers, like game maker Volley , have reported earning in the five-figure range on a monthly basis from Amazon’s program, to give you an idea of the payout potential. With the expansion to Kids skills in the U.K. and Germany, the hope is now to encourage U.S. developers to roll out their app (or localize it) for other markets. Making other markets a priority will be important for Amazon, as the smart speaker race heats up outside the U.S

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Family claims their Echo sent a private conversation to a random contact

A Portland family tells KIRO news that their Echo recorded and then sent a private conversation to someone on its list of contacts without telling them. Amazon called it an “extremely rare occurrence.” Portlander Danielle said that she got a call from one of her husband’s employees one day telling her to “unplug your Alexa devices right now,” and suggesting she’d been hacked. He said that he had received recordings of the couple talking about hardwood floors, which Danielle confirmed. Amazon, when she eventually got hold of the company, had an engineer check the logs, and he apparently discovered what they said was true. In a statement, Amazon said “We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.” Can your smart home be used against you in court? What could have happened? It seems likely that the Echo’s voice recognition service misheard something, interpreting it as instructions to record the conversation like a note or message. And then it apparently also misheard them say to send the recording to this particular person. And it did all this without saying anything back.

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Amazon Music’s app adds hands-free listening, courtesy of Alexa

In September, Amazon announced it was adding support for Alexa voice control to its Amazon Music app for iOS and Android. However, it was implemented as a tap-to-talk function – something that didn’t quite mesh with the hands-free voice control experience Alexa is known for. Today, Amazon is addressing that problem by rolling out hands-free listening to the Amazon Music app instead, as a result of user feedback. That means customers can command Alexa to do things like play or pause music, move back and forth between songs, and create playlists by asking, as well as take advantage of Alexa’s more innovative features around playing music by mood, activity, genre, lyrics, artist or song title. For example, you can ask Alexa to do things like “play the song that goes ‘I’m lovin’ I’m livin’ I’m picking it up” and she’ll play Ariana Grande’s latest single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” notes Amazon. Or you can say things like “Alexa, play that Drake playlist I was listening to last week.” The update to hands-free voice control could help better establish Amazon’s Music service as a viable competitor to Apple Music, which includes Siri voice control, and Spotify, which began testing its own voice search functionality  this March. Amazon Music is still seen as an underdog in the streaming music battle, compared with these two market leaders, but it may not be as far behind as people though. Last month, for instance, Billboard reported the number of people subscribing to Amazon Music had doubled over the last six months, and Amazon was claiming “tens of millions” of paid customers. (Apple Music had 40 million paid members as of April and Spotify had 70 million.)   An earlier report had also found that Amazon’s service had grown to become the third largest music subscription service worldwide. Voice control – and specifically the hands-free experience offered by Echo speakers – has been a huge contributor to Amazon Music’s growth, as has been its inclusion with the Amazon Prime membership program. It makes sense, then, that Amazon would want to offer a similar hands-free experience across devices – especially as voice assistants like Google’s and Apple’s Siri have the advantage of being built-in. (And Google has also just launched its own YouTube Music service, which could be a disruptor to this space.) Amazon says hands-free Alexa is rolling out starting today on the iOS and Android versions of the Amazon Music mobile app for both Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music listeners. The feature can be turned off in the settings if you don’t want to use it.  

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Alexa gets smarter about calendar appointments

As digital assistants improve, we’re learning new things to expect from them, but the tasks that a real-life assistant may have handled before can still be a bit of a challenge to home assistants. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is gaining functionality to help it get smarter about working with your calendar. The new abilities will let users move appointments around and schedule meetings based on other people’s availability. If you’ve been shared on someone’s calendar availability, Alexa will be able to suggest times that work for both of you. Just say, “Alexa schedule a meeting with name” and Amazon’s assistant will search through your schedule for a good time, suggesting up to two time slots that could work. On a more basic feature level, Alexa won’t make you cancel appointments and reschedule them if a meeting time changes. You’ll be able to just ask Alexa to move an existing meeting, something that should have probably been supported from the beginning, but hey, better late than never. Both of these features are available to U.S. users today.

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