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.


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.


The digital content scalability problem

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 3.04.46 PMWhy are ebooks still stuck in the print-under-glass model? Why haven't we seen anything new and exciting in the digital book transformation process?

Those are questions I've been asking myself a lot lately. Ebooks are convenient in that you can carry an entire library on a phone or tablet. They're also more readily available for browsing or purchase, right from the comfort of home. But the reading experience features nothing more than a digital version of the print edition.

I've spent a lot of time evaluating content transformation platforms over the past several years in the hopes that I'll discover the path forward from today's world of dumb books on smart devices. I'm disappointed to say we're at roughly the same stage as we were at more than 10 years ago when the Kindle first hit the scene.

The problem? Scalability.

There are countless books which could be greatly enriched by leveraging technology. Everything from the simple insertion of video to the addition of more interactive elements would turn a static experience into a much more memorable (and probably more effective) experience. These enrichment platforms are becoming easier to use, enabling drag-and-drop functionality so you don't have to be a programmer to create a rich user experience. However, the cost of creating these next-gen products is typically more than what the publisher invested in the creation of the original print product.

Think about that for a minute. As a publisher, you have a pretty good sense of the ROI for your next new title. Most of the variables involved operate within a fairly tight range (e.g., author advance, editing expense, manufacturing cost, sell-in level, etc.) Even the total sales, and therefore resulting revenue, are fairly predictable, within a given range. All this predictability provides the publisher with a P&L model without a lot of surprises.

Now think about asking a publisher to spend two or three times that initial product investment to create an enriched version of the same title. The product development expenses are higher, and may even result in cost overruns due to the newness of the approach. More importantly, the resulting revenue projection is a total shot in the dark. Until the publisher has created enough of these new products, they have no idea what sort of sales range to project.

Scalability should lead to better efficiencies. We saw this with ebooks; an ebook can be created today at a fraction of what publishers used to pay for the service 5-10 years ago. The same thing needs to happen with enriched content. Vendors need to have a path to a model where the transformation cost is less than half the original print/ebook product cost. If they're unable to get there, they might as well abandon ship and get into a different business.