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How to get a halfway decent tech news Flash Briefing from Alexa - tips for enterprise readers

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed January 5, 2018
Getting a semi-decent personalized tech briefing out of Amazon Alexa is a project. Here's an illustrated look at how I did mine - and how enterprise readers should approach it. Plenty of heachache-saving tips included.


Update - December 2023: diginomica is now available as an Alexa Flash Briefing Skill. If you add it:

You'll get a three minute (or so) reading of the top highlights from our most recent five stories.

It is updated daily, read by whichever default voice you have for Alexa readings. Someday, we may have a real person read it, but that is not this day. We will be adding this as a general Alexa skill, but right now you can only access it within your Flash Briefing (you can access this in your mobile Alexa app -> settings -> news -> Flash Briefing (edit etc.)

And yes, we will be adding this to Google and Apple audio news services also. Thanks to our development partner Brainsum for the collaboration. More tips on Flash Briefing content below.

Can you get a decent tech news briefing from Amazon Alexa? Surprisingly the answer is yes. Business trends? Also a modest yes. Enterprise tech? Not really.

I'll walk you through my process on how I built my personal Flash Briefing for biz and tech news/trends, and why I did it.

But since this is an enterprise take, we need to narrow:

  • Are you an enterprise professional who sees relevance in tracking consumer and economic trends?
  • Are you already using Alexa at home for audio content, via Echo-type devices?
  • Do you have 5-20 minute timeframes where you are walking, cleaning, or puttering and like audio content?

If the answer to all three of those questions is "yes," then you may find it worthwhile to setup a Flash Briefing like I did. There's one more piece of the puzzle, which clinched the deal for me.

It turns out there is an Amazon shopping app on both Android and iOS that gives you backdoor access to Flash Briefings on the move. If you get hooked on Flash Briefings at home, you can also get them on the road when you travel - via your phone.

Flash Briefing - a specialized use of Alexa "skills"

You can get more out of Alexa by consuming third party content. Most of this content is available via "skills" that need to be enabled once. After they are enabled, you can consume them on all your devices. Just like other skills, you customize Flash Briefings via the Alexa mobile and desktop apps, but in the Settings section (you can't listen via the mobile Alexa app, however - read on).

Some skills on Alexa don't have to be enabled. That includes business and tech content like podcasts. For example, you can get all of my Busting the Omnichannel - enterprise hacks and chats podcasts on Alexa.

These are available on Alexa via Tunein, a third party content provider you don't have to enable. (Unfortunately the audio command doesn't work yet, I'm in the trouble ticket queue, but you can click on the relevant episodes to play them via browser or app).

The Flash Briefing is different. On the Flash Briefing, you can enable a series of skills to play one right after the other. Yes, many of these skills can be summoned individually by voice, but you have to remember how to summon each one.

The Flash Briefing is ideal for stringing together a series of short skill updates into one personalized "briefing" catered to your interests. You activate Flash Briefing content within the Settings section, and you can activate more Flash Briefings and change the order they play at any time.

There are two main obstacles:

  1. There is only one Flash Briefing. That means you have to lump all of your interests into one Flash Briefing.
  2. Many Flash Briefing "skills" either suck eggs or are not frequently updated. There is quite a bit of trial and error finding the good ones. I'll show you mine, which could expedite.

First, here are screen shots with my Flash Briefing and the exact order of each skill:



Some comments on my order:

  • Weather you may not want, as that's an easy skill to consumer separately
  • I bunched a few general news briefings at the top. I sometimes skip through these using the "skip" command if I am up to speed on news. The final news briefings at the end of the Flash Briefing are there in case I have time - they are longer segments (usually five - seven minutes each).
  • After the first news briefings, the best tech news briefings follow. These are all relatively short (2-5 minutes), and address multiple short news items. They are all original content, recorded for Alexa/short podcast. They are updated almost daily (some take the weekends off)

Not all "skills" are created equal. Producers can either record their own or have Alexa read their RSS feeds. You might hate the RSS reads. I don't find them as useful, but further down I have a few, including "Next Web", "Cybersecurity News," and "Econoday."

The "skip" command will be your friend, especially as not all briefings are updated every day. Alexa claims it doesn't repeat updates you've already listened to, but that's not always the case. Sometimes you'll need to use "skip" multiple times go get through a single skill (Econoday does this, and it's a bit tedious). On the phone app, you won't use the audio "skip" command but the forward and back arrows.

Some Alexa skills do several quick news updates, then a feature story that's longer. I'm not a fan of that format for the Flash Briefing. I like shorter news updates from different sources better. The "Wall Street Journal Tech News Briefing" uses that format - one reason why it's pretty far down in the order. Sometimes the longer segments expose the weakness of a consumer tech focus, such as an over-enthusiastic Wall Street Journal interview with a tech reporter who lived only on Amazon devices for a week (who cares).

"Digitalist by SAP" is the closest thing to enterprise context I've found. SAP has done an ok job here. The interview episodes are better. Others are just the host reading part of an article from The Digitalist. A little blustery, but at least it's enterprisey and not SAPpy (doesn't push product).

Harvard Business Review "management tip of the day" is disappointing and simplistic. I may drop it soon, but it's short and painless so I'm hanging in for now.

The wrap - a project to set up, but worth the effort

Sometimes the consumer tech news is vacant and annoying, such as overly-excited reports about what Snapchat's founder is doing with his winter vacation. Security breaches are amongst the most pertinent updates. Getting tech and economic overview via this Flash Briefing is a good addition - I get my enterprise content from my curated Newsblur already (that's what I use to select my picks for my enterprise newsfeed).

Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple have had enormous influence on the enterprise, from UX to open source to cloud computing. So I don't mind getting a dose of this type of coverage. I would never rely on it for enterprise news though.

It takes me about 20-30 minutes to get through the meat of the Flash Briefing, but your mileague may vary. I have removed all of the longer podcasts from my Flash Briefing. If I listen to a longer podcast, I do that separately. That makes it possible to go through this entire brief in one push. That's important because it's difficult to pick up where you left off.

It's worth getting the order exactly the way you want it, with the best stuff first. Then when you quit for the day, you can just start from the beginning of the Flash Briefing the next. Until Amazon lets you create several Flash Briefings, you're stuck with the problem of making one briefing work for you.

I didn't bear down into organizing this until I found out about the mobile app. I didn't want a routine I couldn't take with me to hotel rooms and tarmacs (though you do need to be online to do a Flash Briefing). Heads up: there is more than one Amazon shopping app, at least on Android, and they both say "Amazon Prime."

However, only one allows you to summon the Flash Briefing. For some bizarre Amazonian reason, you cannot listen to the Flash Briefing within the Alexa phone app (you can configure it there, but you can't listen to it). You'll need the shopping app. Here's the link to the proper iTunes and Android versions.

This article explains it, however I don't have a microphone icon on the proper app, just a circle at the top. But when you press it, you activate Alexa, and you ask "Alexa, play my Flash Briefing." The player appears with the control toggles, and off you go. Oh, and you may want to get a nice wireless bluetooth headset, as I seriously doubt your family and friends will enjoy your Flash Briefing.

The notion of a personalized briefing is appealing but still in its infancy. Enterprise readers will be waiting a long wait before they can get a nice mix of custom enterprise news and analysis in a daily audio. But for those who want to press ahead, I hope these tips help.


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