Voice Isn’t the Next Big Platform

This piece is originally from Dec 19, 2016, but interesting to revisit as we enter the home stretch of 2017 (and what a year it has been):

In 2017, we will start to see that change. After years of false starts, voice interface will finally creep into the mainstream as more people purchase voice-enabled speakers and other gadgets, and as the tech that powers voice starts to improve. By the following year, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with smart machines.

via Voice Is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It | WIRED

I have no doubt that we’ll all be using voice-driven computing on an ever increasing basis in the coming years. In our home, we have an Amazon Alexa, 4 Amazon Dots, and most rooms have Hue Smart Bulbs in the light fixtures (oh, and we have the Amazon Dash Wand in case we want to carry Alexa around with us…). I haven’t physically turned on a light in any of our rooms in months. That’s weird. It happened with the stealth of a technology that slowly but surely creeps into your life and rewires your brain the same way the first iPhone changed how I interact with the people I love. We even renamed all of our Alexa devices as “Computer” so that I can finally pretend I’m living on the Starship Enterprise. Once I have a holodeck, I’m never leaving the house.

And perhaps that’s the real trick to seeing this stealth revolution happen in front of our eyes and via our vocal cords… it’s not just voice-driving computing that is going to be the platform of the near future. In other words, voice won’t be the next big platform. There will be a combination of voice AND augmented reality AND artificial intelligence that will power how we communicate with ourselves, our homes, our environments, and the people we love (and perhaps don’t love). In twenty years, will my young son be typing onto a keyboard in the same way I’m doing to compose this post? In ten years, will my 10-year-old daughter be typing onto a keyboard to do her job or express herself?

I highly doubt both. Those computing processes will be driven by a relationship to a device representing an intelligence. Given that, as a species, we adapted to have relational interact with physical cues and vocal exchanges over the last 70 million years, I can’t imagine that a few decades of “typing” radically altered the way we prefer to communicate and exchange information. It’s the reason I’m not an advocate of teaching kids how to type (and I’m a ~90 wpm touch typist).

Voice combined with AI and AR (or whatever we end up calling it… “mixed reality” perhaps?) is the next big platform because these three will fuse into something the same way the web (as an experience) fused with personal computing to fuel the last big platform revolution.

I’m not sure Amazon will be the ultimate winner in the “next platform” wars that it is waging with Google (Google Assistant), Apple (Siri), Facebook (Messenger), and any number of messaging apps and startups that we haven’t heard of yet. However, our future platforms of choice will be very “human” in the same way we lovingly interact with the slab of metal and glass that we all carry around and do the majority of our computing on these days. It’s hard to imagine a world where computers are shrunk to the size of fibers in our clothing and become transparent characters that we interact with to perform whatever we’ll be performing, but the future does not involve a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen of light emitting diodes for most people (I hear you, gamers) and we’ll all see reality in even more differing ways than is currently possible as augmented reality quickly becomes mainstream in the same way that true mobile devices did after the iPhone.

Maybe I just watched too much Star Trek Next Generation.

Echo Chamber

A friend asked recently what I thought of the Amazon Echo and whether or not I was concerned by privacy issues surrounding the platform. The friend knows we have a number of the devices in our home.

The issue goes along the lines of the the Echo being able to “hear” at all times since it is listening for the wake word (ours is currently set to “Computer” since I’m a Star Trek nerd). As a result, it’s clear that Amazon is taping every sound that is made in our homes and sending directly to law enforcement / the NSA / the CIA / insurance companies / pick your poison.

Obviously, that’s not the case but the line of thinking is definitely circulated regularly on social media and in conversations with people with just enough exposure or information about a product or service to make an uneducated and biased claim.

Sort of like politics, I guess.

The internet promised us democratization of knowledge. It has definitely delivered that. It exposes us to new ideas, thought patterns, technologies, tools, services, images, videos, and music we’d never experience otherwise. I remember relishing my set of World Books as a 12-year-old because they gave me the knowledge and escape.

What the internet hasn’t done is given us a sense of perspective or inquisitiveness. Our limbic system is predicated on our survival, and we often listen to our lizard brain when a new thought technology threatens how we thought we understand this strange concept we call existence.

We need other mechanisms for that perspective and inquisitiveness. Otherwise, the internet can be a powerful sounding board to provide reaffirmation of what we already thought we knew or believed.

Having access to information (textual, visual, video, or audio) does not make one an expert.

Sort of like politics, I guess.

As we transition from fingers to voice as the primary input mechanism for computing it will become even more important to recognize the need for deeper human learning just as we push the boundaries of what deeper machine learning means. Our democracies on the web and in politics depend on it.

We have an Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot in most every room of our house. It’s fantastic technology, and I enjoy the ability to perform both simple and complex computing tasks by using our collection of assistants.

“But Sam,” my friend might say, “sure it’s great that you can turn on your lights or play Bowie or add things to your calendar by just speaking into the void in your den, but what about your privacy?”.

To quote Dylan, “play it loud.

How to Read Your Kindle in the Bathtub

Never forget…

I’ll tell you what I do. I take a one-gallon Ziploc bag, and I put my Kindle in my one-gallon Ziploc bag, and it works beautifully. It’s much better than a physical book, because obviously if you put your physical book in a Ziploc bag you can’t turn the pages. But with Kindle, you can just push the buttons.

Source: Book Learning – The New York Times

Amazon Kills Shelfari

Live by the Amazon sword, die by the Amazon sword…

The worst thing about the whole “merger” is that Amazon is giving Shelfari members just two months to move all their data over to Goodreads. I actively participate in two Shelfari groups that have been operating since 2008/2009 and have thousands of discussion threads, challenges, and games. The move will likely kill one of those groups completely and severely impact the other. So two months just doesn’t cut it – it is rude and sends a message that Amazon doesn’t truly care about some of its best customers.

Source: Amazon Kills Shelfari

Meanwhile, I’m updating my LibraryThing profile (which is 40% owned by Abebooks, which is owned by … Amazon), where I’ve been since 2005.

Are Affiliate eBooks Easy?

Realistic look at eBook creation and publication with lots of detail from a particular detail (don’t agree with him about Amazon though):

E-books Are Not That Easy: “E-book publishing is not as easy as writing a MS Word document and pushing a button, no matter what the bloggers say. Even if you spend a couple of thousand dollars (I know somebody, not me, who spent over $4K on his e-book) it doesn’t guarantee much of anything.”

I’m on the fence here. I’ve not written an eBook (have gone through the laborious process of writing a treeware book for a large publisher though) but I’ve always been tempted. Maybe 2012 is the time for that to finally happen.

I look at what folks like Jim Kukral or Shawn Collins have done and wonder if the publishing process is as hard as the author above makes it sound or if there is some basic tools that simplify things.

Interesting debate.

Regardless, I expect 2012 will be the year when eBooks find complete mainstream adoption and when eBooks transition from a layman’s practice into something more polished and “professional” much like what happened to blogging in the last decade. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing at all.

Seth Godin on the Kindle (And Why I Still Love Mine)

I love my Kindle.

Just this morning, I was in bed watching my favorite program on TV (and about the only thing I watch on TV these days), MSNBC’s Morning Joe. There was a fascinating exchange between show pundit Pat Buchanan and economist Jeffrey Sachs on the topic of energy independence and offshore drilling. Sachs fired back against Buchanan’s typical conservatism (and nativism) with clear and coherent points about the future of energy production and our planet.

At the end of the segment, Joe Scarborough mentioned Sachs’ new book, Commonwealth. I knew then that I had to have it. So, I reached over to the bedside, grabbed my Kindle and about a minute later I was reading the book on the same device that I had read half of another book just a few hours ago.

For me, that’s a game changer.

I love my Kindle.

So, I was happy to see that Seth Godin had written about his experiences with the Kindle since getting one a couple of months ago. Thanks to Jim Kukral for sending that link over.

Seth’s Blog: Random thoughts about the Kindle: “Two months ago, I got a Kindle. It’s a fascinating device, unlike almost any other launched by a significant tech company. Here’s why:”

The only part I disagree on is the “Kindle is a woman’s device” part because most of the top selling Kindle books are on an Oprah list and non-techy. The same can be said for the NY Times Top 10 list (or any top 10 book selling list). Heck, I’m a geek and I don’t read tech or business books. There are plenty of history and political books in the Kindle’s top sellers list which traditionally skew male as well.

Head over and read his thoughts. You just might want a Kindle yourself.

Thoughts on New York Affiliates Situation: Industry Org Needed?

Michael Vorel posted an interesting tweet this morning:

I am concerned many NY affiliates will loose interest in affiliate marketing, solutions?

which was followed up with a tweet from Shawn Collins:

@vastplanet I think it could help to publicize Amazon’s battle and try to bring grassroots blog pressure on NY to get more mainstream media

The back and forth refers to the developing situation surrounding recent legislation in New York state that seeks to collect taxes on online revenue generation and immediately effects large merchants as well as the NY state affiliates.

There was a question as to whether Amazon would drop NY state affiliates, but it looks like the first large merchant to take that step is Overstock.

Shawn Collins covered it first and best at AffiliateTip Blog:

Today the Small Business Blog reports that Overstock.com has issued a notice to all New York state affiliates that they are being dropped from the Overstock Affiliate Program, effective May 20, 2008.

As the day went on, more bloggers and discussions started appearing about Overstock’s actions. Even Saul Hansell of the NY Times is following the developments with an in-depth piece and link back to Shawn’s piece:

There were two predictable fallouts from New York State’s move to force online companies to collect state sales tax: There would be a lawsuit. And some online merchants would cut off their affiliates in the state.

Then, over on ReveNews Heather Paulson covered the situation and got a very precise comment from Todd Crawford:

I am very concerned that NY sees affiliate marketing differently than other forms of online advertising like CPM and CPC. I do not understand the logic they are using that affiliate marketers create nexus for advertisers allowing them to charge sales tax. If this is not overturned, I would expect NY to extend the nexus to any online advertising – including CPC and CPM. Idiots!

As Todd and others have pointed out, this is a very short term play from NY state and will eventually cost them revenue in terms of sales tax and income tax generation from merchants and affiliates. However, states are cash strapped (I won’t get too political, but let’s just say the current administration’s fiscal practices haven’t exactly helped states deal with rising health care and education costs) and looking for ways to get into the black during an important election year when the turnout is going to be exceptionally high.

Will more states follow NY? Yes. It’s almost a certainty if NY is successful at collecting taxes from large companies such as Amazon (which it looks like will be the case judging from the NY Times piece). Does this mean affiliate marketers or merchants will suffer and eliminate affiliates working in those states? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s a necessary certainty.

Instead of making the case that affiliates are being treated unfairly, I think our best bet as an industry is to make the case to state governments that this is an economically short minded tactic. Robbing Peter to pay Paul never works and the states will loose more long term revenue in the form of sales and income taxes than they will gain by a tax system that will surely have more holes than a sieve.

I fear it will be the affiliate marketers themselves and not the merchants who have to make this case. The merchants seem willing to either pay the tax or to stop working with NY state (and eventually others) affiliates instead of making the case against such a tax scheme.

Industry organization anyone?

Market Like a Dandelion

I’m a huge Cory Dotorow fan.

So, when I read this, I immediately thought of the affiliate community and the lessons we could learn by thinking of our content production in terms of dandelions instead of our typical mammalian (reproduction and production are very costly and should be protected) point of view…

Locus Online Features: Cory Doctorow: Think Like a Dandelion: I know this for a fact. I review a lot of books on Boing Boing, and whenever I do, I link to the Amazon page for the book, using my ‘affiliate ID’ in the URL. If you follow one of those links and buy the book, I get a commission — about eight percent. I can use Amazon’s reporting tool to tell exactly how many people click on my links, and how many of them shell out money for the book, and here’s the thing: when I link to a book that’s out soon, available now for pre-order, I reliably get less than ten percent of the purchases I get when I link to books that are available for sale now. Nine out of ten Boing Boing readers who buy books based on my reviews don’t want to pre-order a title and wait for it to show up later.

The net is an unending NOW of moments and distractions and wonderments and puzzlements and rages. Asking someone riding its currents to undertake some kind of complex dance before she can hand you her money is a losing proposition. User-interface designers speak of how every additional click between thought and deed lops a huge number of seeds out of the running for germination.

Head over to the link above and read the whole piece. It’s short and good, but worth your time to think on how you can improve your own marketing efforts by taking the dandelion approach.