I use the word "personalization" with an abundance of caution - mostly because, contrary to marketers' fantasies, algorithms have ruined the concept more than they've helped. As I snarked about Amazon Alexa recently:
"Alexa, did my power go out last night?" (yes)
Alexa: "Here is something I found on wikipedia..."
Yeah, "AI" is really progressing at an amazing rate. Four years into owning Echo devices....
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) October 13, 2020
It's ironic, with all of Alexa's vaunted "smart home" capabilities, that by far the best value I get out of Alexa is via Flash Briefings, the collected news briefing that I compile myself.
My experience is that platforms that allow "super-user" configuration options are still the ones delivering superior personalization - but your chances to configure your own content or preferences on big tech sites are getting more remote by the day. No one can personalize our content like we ourselves can. Big tech wants its algorithms to do that for us, so we get dumbed-down options each day.
Are Alexa Flash Briefings relevant to enterprise professionals?
But for now, we have Flash Briefings, which are a terrific way to gear up for my enterprise day - while puttering about with the coffee machine. Yes, these briefings take effort to compile, but once you do, they are a nifty way to get smaller chunks of news and views from a variety of outlets (this piece is for Amazon Alexa, but Google Home has a similar service). Just like the name implies, it feels like a daily brief - for you, configured by you.
That raises two questions:
Can an enterprise professional get relevant content from Flash Briefings?
Does audio content fit into your workflow?
Audio content definitely works for me. Cleaning, scrubbing, hiking, driving, traveling - bring on the audio. If I have houseguests around, a bluetooth headset is handy, as they probably don't care much for a tech news stream. So if audio is part of your flow, and you've invested in Alexa devices, you may want to give Flash Briefings a spin (you can also get Alexa Flash Briefings from most Android phones with Alexa apps). Or maybe you tried Flash Briefings out of the box and gave up. Well, they are a whole different animal once you configure them.
As for the enterprise professional part, that's a tougher one. For pure enterprise content, the closest I can find is the (very good) The Business of Tech mini-podcast, which has a bit of an MSP-driven focus, as the host/curator Dave Sobel, hails from the MSP (Managed Service Provider) market. It all depends on how narrow your audio interests are.
I find that tracking the most important consumer tech and business stories frames my day. To fill in the enterprise-specific content, I have email alerts and my trusty, text-based newsreader. So can enterprise pros get a good briefing out of Alexa? It depends:
- Tech news? Yes, you can get some quality consumer tech news and analysis
- Business news? Yes, there are some good financial market overviews
You can get a pretty good market context. Then you'll have to go outside your Flash Briefing to get more enterprise angles. It's not always easy to set up the Flash Briefing. It's not obvious which audio content in Alexa's skills section is updated regularly. Many Flash "skills" get abandoned - but the user reviews can help you there. I'll show you my setup as well.
Setting up your Flash Briefing - tips from my setup
Flash Briefings are like a smaller, overlapping universe inside Alexa's skills. You enable the Flash Briefing "skills" you want; they work within the Flash Briefing once you activate them. Order them however you like. Some Flash Briefing skills can be consumed outside of the Flash Briefing format as well, but why not listen to them sequentially? Manually organizing a bunch of 2-5 minute daily podcasts in iTunes would be a chore.
You can skip over sections you don't want to hear on a given day (I use the "skip" command for that, or you can manually skip as well on phone/computer). You can also "pause" and "resume," though the ability to do that can be problematic. Example: if you take a break and ask Alexa to play music, and then pause/stop the music, Alexa might not remember where you left off the Flash Briefing. As I said, it's not too smart.
That said, let's go through my setup, in three annotated screen shots. As you review this, keep two things in mind:
- The order of your Flash Briefing matters. As I said, Alexa isn't good about pausing or continuing Flash Briefings - except on your phone display.
- I front load the Flash Briefing with the most essential content. Partly because of that continuation problem; partly because of time constraints.
My goal: get a solid biz/tech daily overview in about 15 minutes. My entire Flash Briefing lasts considerably longer. On days when I have more audio time, I'll delve further. I also like having a longer briefing because I can "skip" redundant or boring interviews, and a better piece of content may be next.
This batch runs 15 - 20 minutes. Local sport/weather, then right into the tech news:
- Tech news updates invariably have overlapping content. I don't mind a bit of that, but you could easily pare down. Example: keep "Hashtag trending," probably the best of the tech news updates, and drop Cnet news, CNBC, or "Ten things you need to know in tech."
- The Wall Street Journal Tech News Briefing is an effective format, with several quick updates and then a (fairly) short feature interview.
- I just found the Cyberwire Daily - I've been looking for a daily cybersecurity update given it takes a daily update to keep up with all the breaches (ugh).
- The Business of Tech is a fave. Our aforementioned host always asks "Why does this story matter?" Which is the question that rarely gets answered in most news briefs.
Now we move into the second bunch:
A few notes:
- Wired Business is a human reading a Wired business article. It's usually about seven minutes and doesn't always hit home, but most are pretty solid.
- TWIT is a pick from the Leo Laporte tech podcast show empire. Some are tedious iOS or Android ramblings, but others are pretty entertaining, e.g. privacy debates.
- The Bloomberg Featured Interview is missing in action. I keep it enabled hoping it will return.
- Daily Tech Headlines is one of the best daily updates, but it's now larded down in long-winded commercials. It's punished in my briefing order for now (I've complained to the creators).
- I avoid longer podcasts in my Flash Briefing; Planet Money is an exception. It's more of a weekly thing, and I don't mind stumbling on it here from time to time.
- "Tech news" is the first selection in my lineup that actually has Alexa reading the headlines. I don't have too many of these, preferring the hand-crafted ones with a human reading them.
Now for the final batch:
This final section is a dog's breakfast. Why did I bury the short market updates? Because I get plenty of market alerts from Yahoo Finance and Seeking Alpha as it is. Econoday is pretty tedious - economic news and event notices read by Alexa, but there is deeper economic info in here you might not get elsewhere. Definitely in economic geek territory on that one.
I turn to the Flash Briefing in the mornings when I haven't fired up my computers yet, or when I come home with an arm full of groceries and need to sort and wash.
Another cool way to use a Flash Briefing is to emded it in an Alexa routine. I have a morning routine I call "cockpit" that gives me my calendar for the day, traffic updates, a few odds and ends, and then into the Flash Briefing. One downside to Flash Briefings: you have only one per household.
Most Flash Briefings have some form of commercials or sponsorship plugs. I don't mind them as long as they are concise and not excessive. Most popular podcasts have something like this too, so you're not getting away from that easily.
The more we can blur the lines between work and fun the better we are at our work. Work is always going to be hard enough. Learning should be fun, or at least engaging. Flash Briefings don't take the place of deeper research dives, nor should they. But they more than justified my Alexa investment.
As for more enterprise content on Flash Briefings, well, we should do something about that, eh?