Where are all the must-have Alexa skills?

Is it me or is Amazon's Alexa loaded with nothing but gimmicky skills? I like audio news streams as much as the next guy but where are all the amazing skills this platform should be offering by now? I wrote earlier about a use-case publishers and content consumers could get excited about but the capabilities I outlined then are still nowhere to be found.

My various Alexa devices are great at streaming music. The Echo Show I got for Christmas sits on my nightstand and randomly shows photos from my collection. It's a rather pricey, over-engineered picture viewer and alarm clock though. A few months ago I bought an in-car Alexa device but soon realized it doesn't add much value beyond what I already get from my phone's podcast app paired via Bluetooth.

Speaking of phones, the Alexa platform seems to be where the app stores were in the early days of both the iPhone and Android devices. Come to think of it, it's still pretty hard to find new, useful apps amidst all the clutter. If you're like most people, you have dozens of apps on your phone but you probably only use a few of them on any given day. At this point in the life of Alexa I thought we'd see at least one or two can't-live-without-it skills but I can't think of a single one.

I'm still extremely bullish on voice UIs and I believe the future is bright for publishers who are willing to transform their content for delivery on them. That process becomes a lot easier as the text-to-speech services continue improving, btw, and I recommend we continue experimenting with skills and capabilities.

I'm guilty of adding to the clutter as I'm working on a skill for an audio version of my website. Amazon makes it sounds simple enough but I ran into a snag about 10 minutes into the process. I've run out of time today but I'm going to see if I can troubleshoot and take my skill live soon. I encourage you to do the same; even if your new Alexa skill isn't a game-changer, it's important to immerse yourself in the process and stay on top of this important platform.


Managing book highlights and excerpts

In the pre-ebook era we didn't have a lot of options for managing book highlights and excerpts. They generally lived on your shelf and if you didn't have that book with you, well, you were out of luck

The 2007 launch of the Kindle platform dramatically expanded the capabilities for highlights and excerpts...sort of. You didn't have to carry all those books around anymore but your thoughts were pretty much trapped in the Amazon ecosystem.

Not much has changed on this front over the past 10+ years but there are other tools that can unlock your book thoughts and notes. I'm talking about Evernote and how I use it to manage my book notes.

When I start reading a book I immediately create a new note in Evernote with the book's title. I'm reading more print books than ebooks these days, but the same approach I'm about to describe can be used for either. When I find a page or section I want to highlight or create a note about, I simply use the camera option in Evernote on my phone, take a picture of that page and stick it in the book's Evernote entry.

The result is a set of excerpts and notes that travel with me on all my devices. Better yet, I can share those notes with friends or colleagues. In fact, I'm using this solution right now to collaborate and share thoughts on a book I'm reading with one of my co-workers.

Evernote has optical character recognition (OCR) built-in and I often take pictures of hand-written meeting notes to save digitally. Oddly enough, Evernote is almost always able to translate my awful handwriting but it often has a hard time recognizing printed words on a book page photo. It works better on the Mac than my Android phone but it's still hit and miss. The downside is that your book page photos often aren't searchable within Evernote and I'm hoping they fix this soon.

Despite that issue, Evernote is a terrific tool for managing and sharing your book highlights, excerpts and notes.


Revisiting "The Innovator's Dilemma"

What's the most impactful business book you've ever read? Mine is Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. I first read it many years ago and I figure now would be a good time to read it again. I must have given my original copy away, so I stopped by the used book store and picked up another for $8.99.

What was so memorable about my first read of this classic? Christensen opened my eyes to think like a startup, an innovator and a disruptor. One of the key takeaways is that many innovators chip away at the low end of the market, causing entrenched market leaders to ignore them, figuring they can have that less profitable segment but they'll never truly compete with me in the more lucrative segment. By the time the leader realizes their mistake, the innovator has already stolen much of the market and is on their way toward total domination.

OK, it doesn't always end that way but this book describes many examples of significant disruption by new market entrants. I've referred to this book countless times in my career and I'm confident the lessons it offers are as relevant today as they were when it was originally published.

I'm looking forward to starting the reading journey again on this one and I hope you'll join me. I'll be sure to share my thoughts, as well as my preferred method of book highlighting in an upcoming article. (Hint: the highlighting approach involves Evernote...)


Welcome to DisruptorFest!

If you're looking at this page and scratching your head it's probably because you're used to seeing my digital content strategies site. Although I'm still intrigued by the future of digital content I'm even more passionate about business management, personal development and leadership.

The DisruptorFest name is inspired by the fact that disruptors are the people who are truly leading organizations into the future. They're not satisfied with the status quo; rather, they're laser focused on creating new markets, solving new problems or simply inventing new ways to solve old problems.

Going forward, DisruptorFest will serve as a resource where I plan to share many of the lessons I've learned and continue to learn. Digital content directions and trends will still be a part of that, of course, but this shift provides more latitude for me to cover other topics as well. Here are just a few of the items I plan to feature in the coming weeks and months:

  • The importance of life-long learning
  • Empowerment
  • Flat organizations
  • Agile
  • Fail forward fast
  • Exercise and fitness
  • Favorite books and excerpts
  • Favorite podcasts

The "Fest" in DisruptorFest means this is intended to serve as a community resource. I'd like to hear from you via article comments and/or email. Please be sure to share the lessons you've learned and the techniques you use as a disruptor in your world.


ScanMarker Air: Great concept, poorly executed

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 12.21.42 PMDespite my strong interest in the digital content marketplace, I still read quite a few print books every year. I also like to highlight excerpts for future reference.

That works great in the ebook world as those highlights are always only a few taps away on my iPad but my print highlights are far less accessible, especially if I'm away from my physical bookshelf. I thought I found an interesting solution to the problem when I saw the umpteenth ad for ScanMarker Air in my Facebook feed.

The promise was simple: A handy OCR device which looks like an oversized highlighter and wirelessly sends your scanned text to the device and app of your choice, all for about a hundred dollars.

The device connects effortlessly to laptops, tablets and phones. The scanning and text conversion process is pretty good, although far from flawless. It's the limitations around where that text can be sent that has me scratching my head.

The Mac app works great. Not only can you send the text to the ScanMarker app but I can instead send it directly to other apps like Evernote. That's a key feature but this functionality is missing from the iPad and Android versions of the ScanMarker app. The problem I've run into is that I don't always have my Mac with me when I'm reading a book. My phone is generally nearby, but that means I have to scan the excerpts into my ScanMarker phone app then copy-and-paste them in Evernote, an extra, clumsy step.

I'm hoping the ScanMarker team updates their apps to support scanning directly into other tablet and phone apps. That seems iffy at best though as I noticed their Android app has only been downloaded a few thousand times and it hasn't been updated in months. If the user base remains small, early adopters like myself will end up with an orphaned product.

If the ScanMarker team happens to see this review, I hope they consider a pretty simple use-case for future development: I'm sure most, if not all, ScanMarker customers are using it with books. If so, how about adding the ability to identify the title by scanning the ISBN? Further, allow me to configure my app so that anytime I scan a new ISBN the app create a new Evernote entry where all highlights go till I scan a new ISBN, for example. If I switch back to a book I started scanning earlier, let me switch the excerpt destination to the older Evernote entry when I re-scan the first book's ISBN.

ScanMarker Air could become the device I was hoping for when I bought mine a week ago. If you're thinking about buying one, I recommend you wait until we see if TopScan, the company behind this device, adds much-needed functionality to this marginally functional product.