A Business Technology Place

Alexa, play my podcast

How hard can it be?

This week I wanted to play a podcast through my Amazon Echo Dot. It seemed so simple. I would have Alexa learn a skill for a podcast player and then queue the podcast to play. My preferred podcast player is Google Play Music because that’s where I keep my digital music. But I had forgotten Amazon and Google don’t play together. Silly boys.

Here are the options I found:

  1. Enable a skill on Alexa that plays podcasts. Some of the more well-known providers are iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Stitcher.
  2. Use the Echo Dot as a bluetooth speaker. In this option, the Echo Dot can be paired to another device such as phone or tablet. Then play the podcast on the app installed on the other device.

Pick and go

For option 1, I didn’t want to register a new account. Since I don’t have accounts on iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or Stitcher I chose option 2.

Pairing the Echo Dot to my phone was easy. I turned on bluetooth on my phone and then said “Alex, pair bluetooth”. When I did this the Echo Dot showed as a device that could be paired. The obvious downside to this method is I have to use a second device to play the podcast through the Echo Dot instead of using the Alexa voice commands. I’m OK with that.

One thing to note if you try this. Other family members might not like your podcast content or want to listen at the same time. You might have to move Alexa to a private space. 🙂

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: F. Delventhal via Creative Commons

 

Media subscriptions – Where do you spend your media dollars?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Bloomberg charging for access to their content reminded me digital content providers are competing for my wallet-share. In 2015 I cut the cord with cable/satellite and haven’t regretted it. Now, the digital content I consume for video is based on month-to-month subscriptions. I choose the content valuable to me or that I consider worth paying for. No obligations. Easy. My current list:

Increasingly, news and media providers are also moving to subscription models for their digital content. As the number of subscribers for paper content decreases the media outlets need sources of revenue to sustain themselves. Currently, I don’t pay for online news, data analysis, and opinion articles. I still retrieve news on the internet from ad-only sites, teaser rates, or free allowances. To be fair, I listen to some news on the radio or through a XM satellite subscription. I do enjoy in-depth and good analysis on topics. I just haven’t settled on a favorite to lock-in.

What does that mean for all of us now and in the future? As more providers move toward subscription models, we’ll have to make choices on our media subscriptions to keep our overall spending in-check. How much will brand loyalty influence our decisions?  For me initially, I chose Sling TV as an online streaming provider. After a couple of years I switched to PS Vue based on different in programming packages for live sports. But with Netflix, I haven’t really actively shopped them for alternative providers like Hulu and Amazon.  Have I developed brand loyalty to Netflix? If I pay for a subscription to the New York Times (which I don’t) would I not pay for a subscription to additional online new providers like Bloomberg and the Washington Post?

Where do you spend your media dollar?

Right Sizing Advertisements

Advertisement cat-and-mouse.

For the record, I use an advertisement blocker extension in Google Chrome already. I don’t mind advertisements, because I realize they are necessary to promote products and services that drive the economy (the 4 Ps!). But let’s be honest. The placements of advertisements can be annoying when they disrupt the content of a broadcast, web page, place, or event. This is why I started using an Ad Blocker extension on my web browser several years ago. I wanted a smoother flow of content on the pages I was reading.

Creating guidelines.

In March 2017, the Coalition for Better Ads released some guidelines entitled Initial Better Ads Standards. The document is based on consumer research to identify the types of ads that promote poor experience ratings and create a greater propensity for consumers to adopt third party tools to block advertisements. This is the first step towards creating guidelines for internet ads similar to governing provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 for email.

Now, Google will start enforcing the “Better Ads Standards” by automatically blocking ads formats that fall outside the boundaries for acceptable-use. This is a big deal for several reasons:

  • Influence – Google Chrome is the most popular web browser in recent years according to multiple reports and studies from web traffic use.
  • Business Impact – The revenue model for some businesses will fall outside the boundaries of what is acceptable. Businesses will have to adjust to maintain revenue.
  • Industry Position- About $3 of every $10 on digital ads goes to Google according to this report in the Wall Street Journal. Is there a conflict of interest and will Google’s stance ultimately drive more revenue for Google?

A step forward, let’s take another one.

The Better Ads guidelines are not focused on what advertisers says, but how they say it. That’s a great start to bring some decency guidelines for how advertisers insert themselves onto my screen.

A few of the ads Google will block: Pop-up with Countdown, Sticky, and Auto-play Video with Sound (Source: Coalition for Better Ads)

The next thing I would like to see is a way for consumers to filter ad content based on their preferences. Perhaps the Better Ads group could designate ad content areas that could be objectionable such as alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc. Many publishers and ad servers are already making great strides in this space as they serve ads based on the content of the page or based on past searches. This is ad relevance and is a primary factor in driving clicks from consumers.  I have experimented with Google AdSense on my personal blog and Google allows me to exclude certain topic categories from displaying (Kudos Google).  My point is most of the decision power today is in the hands of the site owners and advertisers. I’d like to see the consumers have a bit more say in what type of content is displayed in the advertisements they see. Let’s keep right sizing this topic…..

Onward and Upward!

Targeted ads and your privacy

A large portion of my time at work managing Information Technology is spent handling security and availability of data. The number of compliance controls has sharply risen in recent years as a direct result of the publicity of data breaches and high profile data theft. Quite frankly, security and availability compliance is a bit chaotic right now with new job creation, changing standards, new standards, and individual company risk assessments.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal from Christopher Mims about targeted ads left me thinking about the availability of my personal data spread across servers and data stores all over the internet. We all know about internet browser cookies leaving trails of our activity as we use the internet for research, shopping, reading, and entertainment. Mims discusses the rise of Amazon’s ad business and how it offers distinct data points that may differ from other internet giants like Google and Facebook. All this data sharing is governed by privacy policies, terms of use, and partner affiliates. But I still find it creepy when products I have researched appear on other sites I visit as recommended buys. As I mentioned my job makes me prove how I don’t share customer data. But retail and social media businesses are monetizing my data by selling it.

I performed a simple test this morning to how browser privacy settings affected my experience with some internet sites. For all these tests I used the Google Chrome Browser. Other browsers have similar features.

Note: There are so many variations for privacy settings across sites that this can quickly become a complex subject. Businesses rely on cookies in your browser but also have the ability to track your history on their site in their databases which is governed by their privacy rules. My simple test was to see how I might increase some of my privacy by adjusting a couple of settings on a browser.

Test One – Eat all the cookies

Setup:

  1. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner and then select “settings” or go to chrome://settings/ in the browser address bar.
  2. From the settings bar scroll to the bottom and select advanced
  3. Under Privacy and Security select content settings
  4. Next select cookies
  5. Turn on the setting to keep local data only until you quit your browser
  6. Close and reopen the browser
  7. Go to Amazon, eBay, and Facebook

Results:

This setting allows the sites visited to set their tracking and information cookies. But each time the browser is closed all of the cookies are removed.  Automatically clearing cookies means it is necessary to log into the websites each time the site is revisited. Clearing cache files causes websites to load more slowly after a browser restart. Are the performance downsides worth the small increase in privacy?

I checked sites Amazon, eBay, and Facebook and targeted ads were not there across different browser sessions. But I did have to reauthenticate.

Test Two – Eat some cookies

Setup:

  1. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner and then select “settings” or go to chrome://settings/ in the browser address bar.
  2. From the settings bar scroll to the bottom and select advanced
  3. Under Privacy and Security select content settings
  4. Next select cookies
  5. Turn off the setting to keep local data only until you quit your browser (revert Test One)
  6. In the section Clear on Exit add sites that may serve targeted ads. I chose
    • [*.]Facebook.com
    • [*.]Amazon.com
    • [*.]eBay.com
  7. Close and reopen the browser
  8. Go to www.google.com
    • Search “new tires”
    • Search “printer toner HP”
    • Search “Keurig k cups”
  9. Go to Facebook browse and look for ads
  10. Go to Amazon browse and look for ads
  11. Go to eBay browse and look for ads

Results:

I didn’t find any in-line ads for tires, toner or coffee initially. I noted that I had not clicked on any search results; I just searched and viewed results. I went back and researched on Keurig k cups. Then I clicked on a result from Amazon. When I did this, the recommended buys from Amazon completely filled with k cups.  I closed the browser and the recommended buys changed back to something I had purchased in the past. But the site still showed items I had recently browsed.  Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account.

eBay only filled a section with recently viewed items which gave me the impression they were only seeing activities performed on their site. Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account.

Facebook had no advertising in-line but did serve ads on the right-side of the page under the title “recommended for you nearby”. The ads I saw didn’t match tires, printer toner, or coffee. Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account. Advertisers buy targeted ads based on specific interests. I guess my timing wasn’t right for my three tests.

A few more settings of interest:

Facebook:

In addition to the web browser, Facebook is also tracking your account activity and selling that data to advertisers. Turn off some of the Facebook targeted advertising by doing this:

  1. From your Facebook profile, click on the small upside-down triangle in the upper-right side.
  2. Select Settings
  3. Select Ads from the left-hand side of the page
  4. Facebook selects Yes as the default option. Change the permissions to No.

Google:

  1. Go to page https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols
  2. There are various sections for activity tracking by Google (search, devices, YouTube, location, etc.) Read each section and designate if you want Google keeping that information.

My thoughts:

Unless I go off the grid or completely stop using the internet, it’s not possible to stop all monitoring of my activities by my internet provider, merchants, search engines, etc. Playing with the browser settings may limit some of the trails I leave and give me a sense of a little more privacy. The settings can certainly reduce the size of my electronic footprint but not eliminate it. As I mentioned before, it’s up to the individual to weigh the trade-offs of privacy with usage on the site.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Surlan Soosay via creative commons.

The local library and my reading habit

Alexandra Alter wrote an article in the NY Times this week about technology and our reading habits. Alter’s piece does a good job of reviewing differences between print and electronic readers as well as some changes in recent years in the publishing industry.  Like Alter, I prefer eBooks because of the convenience, searchability, and portability. But the base audience in her article is people who buy books not borrow them. She didn’t make one mention of the public library.

Generally speaking, I search my local library first when I want to read a book. I’ve used print, electronic, and audio versions of books in the past. I know library borrowing isn’t for everyone but here are a few reasons why I prefer it:

  1. I rarely go back and read books of fiction or non-fiction twice. So owning a copy on my bookshelf at home or in an eLibrary doesn’t provide meaningful value to me. If I borrow the book and want to take notes then I use a service like Evernote.com to keep thoughts and learnings.
  2. When I read for leisure, I don’t have to have the book right at the moment when I want to read it. I don’t mind waiting until I can either go to the library or when a copy becomes available in the eLibrary. It’s just not an urgent matter.
  3. The eBooks from local library are available through the Amazon Kindle reader or through another eReader app on my tablet. Checking-out an eBook or audio book is as simple as buying it.
  4. If the physical copy of the book is at another branch in the library system not close to me, then they will deliver it to my local branch for free.
  5. There’s no buyer’s remorse with library books. I’ve started a few books that I didn’t like because of the story-line, characters, or writing style. Since I didn’t pay for the book, it was very simple to stop reading and move-on to the next book.

To be fair, borrowing library books does have some frustrations. Availability is limited by the number of copies purchased by the system and number of borrowers ahead of me. This means popular books can have wait times for over a year. If this happens, I have to decide if I’m willing to wait, if I want to purchase it, or if I should search for another book. I usually just search for another book. There are lots of stories to be read.

So technology has altered my reading habits somewhat. I prefer an eBook but will read the paper version without issue if that is what is available. I should also mention that taking an eBook to the beach makes me nervous because of the sand and water around the electronic devices. This is one setting where I prefer a paper book.

Onward and Upward!