Amazon Echo: Fun, But Not Very Useful – Yet

Amazon Echo review - voice activated assistant

How would you like to have your own administrative assistant to help you research information and compile simple lists?  All done hands-free by saying commands aloud?

And when you’re not assigning or asking things, how would you like an audio speaker that sounds good, so you can listen to music in the background as you work?

Interested? Then you’ll want to check out the new Amazon Echo.

We tapped into the expertise of Brent Leary, industry analyst, who got an early look at the Amazon Echo. He shared his thoughts for this review.

Key Amazon Echo Features

Amazon Echo is an exciting new device that in the future could change the way we interact with the environment around us.

Think of the Amazon Echo as a speaker that lets you listen to music — but one you can also talk to.  It answers questions and performs simple tasks such as creating shopping lists and to-do lists.

The Echo consists of two parts:

  • a combined speaker / microphone device, and
  • a software app.

The device is a cylinder-shaped speaker that stands upright. It’s 9.25 inches tall and just 3.27 inches across. The speaker is omnidirectional (it broadcasts out to all sides).

Around the top of it are seven microphones to pick up your voice from all directions.

Let’s say you want to know the weather. You simply address it by its name (“Alexa”) so it knows you are talking to it.

Say the word “Alexa.” Then ask something like, “What’s the weather in Atlanta?”

If the Echo is asleep, it will wake up. If it is playing music, it will stop and answer your question.

It can hear you across the room. Amazon calls this “far field voice recognition.”

Via your WiFi connection, it streams your request to the cloud where the Echo “brain” resides.

Within seconds, Alexa (equipped with a female voice) speaks the answers back to you — hands free.  The spoken answers also appear typed out in the app on your tablet or browser.

The Echo device works together with its cloud-based app connected to the Internet.  The app is what enables it to create a shopping list, for instance.  And it’s not just music you can add to your shopping list. You can add food, clothing or other items.  You can also create a to-do list.

The accompanying app can be used on the Kindle Fire, Android devices, and browsers.  You can use the app even when you’re away from the speaker device.

Amazon Echo app

Pros

The Amazon Echo is innovative and has a lot of positives going for it:

  • Echo is simple to set up.
  • Its voice recognition is good. You can speak naturally and it still picks up your commands.
  • Alexa’s speech sounds natural — not like a robot.
  • The speaker delivers nice sound output. With Bluetooth you can connect tablets and phones and listen to music services such as Pandora and Spotify through the speaker.
  • It comes with Amazon Prime and TuneIn integrated already.
  • It is relatively inexpensive.  It runs $199, but Amazon Prime subscribers get it for just $99 currently.

Cons

The biggest downside with the Amazon Echo is its limited usefulness — so far. Today, it’s really more of a consumer entertainment gadget that’s not all that useful for productivity:

  • For small businesspeople looking for personal productivity tools, it is likely to disappoint. Today, it’s limited mainly to looking up facts you can find online and creating simple lists.
  • It handles easy questions well, such as math calculations or queries about straight-forward facts. However, as the video below demonstrates, it can get stumped. Sometimes one word in the question makes a difference.
  • It would be nice if it were tied into recommendation engines like Yelp to get answers to questions about things like “best pizza places,” for example.
  • It would be nice to integrate music services like Spotify. While you can play tunes from Spotify over the speaker via Bluetooth, you can’t give Echo voice commands to play songs from your Spotify account.
  • Used as a speaker, it certainly has decent quality. But it’s not the best speaker on the market. High-end audiophiles will demand more.

Who Amazon Echo Is Best For

The Echo is for early adopters who love to be the first in their circles to try new devices. If you like experimenting with innovative gadgets, you’ll love the Echo.

And if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll especially like it because of the great introductory price. The following video by Brent Leary shows the Echo in action.

Amazon Echo shows exciting promise as a personal entertainment device / personal assistant.

But right now it is limited. Mainly you can use it as a speaker for cloud-based music and video sound. You use it to answer simple questions and create lists.

Echo doesn’t do much more than that — yet.

Amazon says more services and functions are coming. That may be quite soon, given that the device is tied to a cloud app that Amazon can easily update. Right now, though, it is not full-featured enough to be a productivity tool for your business (or for you personally).

Our star rating gives Amazon the benefit of the doubt that it actually will follow through with more services and smarts via the cloud.

Echo is one of those devices that, if we look back a few years from now, we may wonder how we lived without it. Echo is ahead of its time.

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Where the Magic Happens: Benefits of In-Person Networking

benefits of in-person networking

Do you get caught up in, or rely too heavily on digital networking? Do you get into a rut and forget about how important networking in person is?  Big mistake. Without the right blend of online and in-person connectivity, we miss out on many benefits we offer each other as professionals.

I see people fall into this rut all the time, thinking if they send a text, email or social media post then that’s enough. Remember transactions are not relationships. Better to own your time with people more personally, no matter how long or short it may be.

It’s so important to establish and develop connections and relationships in person because that is where magic happens. Any opportunity you have to go out and meet people in person is a coveted opportunity. Take advantage of it and make things happen that just can’t happen the same way online.

Below are the benefits of in-person networking that can help develop real relationships that matter.

Personalize Your Time With People

Whatever time you have with people, focus on them and make the absolute most of it. Ask questions that show your sincere interest in them. Come away with one significant commitment, agreement, appointment, or goal that you both can work on.

Establish Chemistry and Synergy

Nothing establishes chemistry more than being in someone’s presence. There is something inexplicable that happens when you can interact with people through eye contact, sense of humor and shared energy.

Learn About Peoples’ Back Stories

Everyone has a story that can reveal so much about where they come from, how they have gotten to their current place and what common ground you can find with them.  We all share human experiences in business. These experiences have taught us all the importance of hope, hard work and faith to help us through.

Have Diverse and Interesting Conversations

The ability to focus on a specific conversation point with someone makes us memorable and establishes commonality. Ask people about what they do, interesting trends they see in their industry and the values and fundamentals you believe you have in common.

Set Specific Goals About What’s Next

Have you ever seen someone at a networking event you know or want to meet and thought it might be the perfect time to initiate an intro or conversation? Take the initiative to do this more often. Compliment them on something they are doing that you admire.

Introduce People to Each Other in Person

Not everyone is comfortable chit chatting and small talking with others at networking events. Take the opportunity to introduce people to each other when you believe they might be a good fit. This includes businesses that may be complimentary, personalities that match up or just cool people that you feel should know each other.

Learn About Inside Initiatives and Projects

Have you ever been in a conversation in which information that has not yet become common knowledge in your industry is revealed? People tend to reveal this kind of information in intimate face to face conversations. This can happen in part because of the sense of trust that is established in the moment. When it comes to job and career opportunities, amazing info is shared in person that is NOT shared elsewhere. So stay alert.

Take Relationships to Another Level

When we consistently show up, engage, contribute and participate in professional gatherings and events, we will naturally take relationships to another level and get to know key people in our industry better. That is happening to me now after being in a new area and town.

Brainstorm and Spark New Ideas and Goals

Joining professional groups is important, but getting involved with them is more important. Join a committee, work on an initiative, project or task that puts you side by side with others working toward a common goal or outcome. The bond created by accomplishing something with others is priceless.

Make a Memorable Impression

A firm handshake, a warm smile, a hug, a shared laugh, an unexpected conversation, a personal connection established with an initial meeting — these are all things that can only happen in person.

Have Fun and Let Your Hair Down

There are other things only possible when socializing in person. You just can’t get into dancing, singing, telling a great joke or having an enjoyable group conversation online. Period. They can only happen in person.

Don’t underestimate the power and benefit of developing your sociability face to face. At dinners, business events, in elevators, waiting in line, at airports or at the grocery store: in all these settings you can find new connections and new business opportunities.

People are fun and fascinating. Become more of a people person and watch what great things can happen.

Networking Photo via Shutterstock

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7 Things Successful Marketers Do Every Morning

things successful marketers do

No matter what level you are at in the pecking order or what function you work in, every successful person has one thing in common — an energizing and self-affirming start to their work day. This great start is especially critical for marketing professionals.

Marketers are the face of the company to the outside world. When we are refreshed and energized, we channel that positivity into our brand. This positivity radiates outwards and draws in consumers — the end goal that we all work towards every single day.

So without further ado, here are the seven things successful marketers do to begin their workday:

1. Write Down Priorities for the Day

As an obsessive list maker myself, I must say I am a tad partial to list making as a ritual. But my personal idiosyncrasies aside, making a list of every task you hope to complete each day gives you a sense of purpose and direction.

It is not enough however to simply make a laundry list of activities for the day. Force yourself to prioritize tasks based on how important or urgent they are. Taking a page from President Eisenhower’s playbook, use the concept of urgent as opposed to important tasks and proceed to prioritize your day accordingly.

Priorities

It does not matter whether you use sticky notes or a real notepad or an app on your phone. What matters is that you list your priorities for the day.

2. Run Your Numbers

Every marketer has certain numbers that determine the success or failure of their tasks. Some of these tasks contribute to the success or failure of the entire marketing campaign.

Once you’re done making your to-do list for the day, check the vital stats for all your campaigns. This could be running the numbers on site traffic for the previous day or total sales for the previous day or even number of email newsletters opened and clicked on in the previous day. Whatever your key result metrics, run them to get an idea of where you stand with respect to your goals.

After crunching your own campaign numbers, do a little bit of snooping on your top competitors. You could subscribe to their email lists, set up Google Alerts for their brand names, listen in to the conversations about them on social media and more.

3. Quick Catchup With the Team to Review Work

Unlike a programmer or a financial analyst, a marketer is a social animal by nature. Our work requires us to interact with others and get the best out of them to be able to do our own jobs well.

A daily five minute catch-up with the marketing team, where each member talks about the status of their respective KRAs helps the entire team get on to the same page. Update your team about specific challenges you may be facing, inform them about key projects that will be rolling out and seek their inputs wherever needed.

4. Readjust Plan for the Day

No plan is ever set in stone.

Your campaign positions, your competitors’ actions and feedback from your team will help you determine whether you need to rejig that to-do list. Don’t feel guilty about going back to your list and quickly realigning your priorities if need be. The ability to be flexible is a key ingredient in making you a more creative and effective marketer.

5. Check Email, Reply to Pressing Ones

A lot of people rush headlong into checking and replying to their emails as they begin their day.

Avoid this like the plague.

It’s very easy to get sucked into cleaning up other people’s messes and doing things that are important to others (not you) by immersing yourself in your email inbox at the beginning of the day. Instead, check your email only after you’ve decided what to do with your day. Respond to pressing matters and shelve the rest of the emails to tackle later based on your priority list.

6. Swallow the Frog First

It was Mark Twain who said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

This goes against the grain of everything we normally do when faced with a complicated task. We tend to postpone it for as long as we can till it can be pushed off no longer and then run around like headless chickens in a bid to complete the task well and on time.

A good way to put that procrastination gene to sleep is by sucking it up and tackling your most difficult project first. Productivity guru Tony Schwartz affirms this practice:

“I always do the most important task of the day first thing in the morning, when I’m most rested and least distracted.”

Whether it is creating that boring, long presentation for your boss, developing a best practices template for your social media team or axing budgets for an upcoming campaign; dive right into your most challenging task for the day first thing in the morning. With the worst thing on the list out of the way, the rest of your day can only get better.

7. Create Your ‘Tomorrow List’ Before You Leave Work in the Evening

Most of us just tend to heave a huge sigh of relief at the close of the day and scramble for the door. Resist the temptation to head for the hills at the end of the workday and spend five minutes reflecting on what you achieved during the day.

This period of reflection will help you pin point mistakes that you made, feel good about your successes and plan for the next day. Decide on the three most important things that you want to do the following day and call it your ‘Tomorrow List’. This list will instantly give you a heads-up about your priorities for the following day. It will also give you a sense of satisfaction reflecting on a day well spent.

In Closing

Being disciplined is often seen as boring. Placing yourself and your priorities above those of others is seen as selfish.

However, the truth is that some of the most creative and successful minds in recent times have adhered to work routines that not only celebrated daily rituals but also placed their own goals firmly at the heart of everything they did.

If it worked for them, trying out a disciplined workday is probably worth a try.

Morning Photo via Shutterstock

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Read Edgy Conversations to Shake Loose From Loser Thinking

edgy conversationsI’m entirely too vain to contemplate killing myself. No Matter how crappy I feel, no matter how much of a loser – the idea of ending it all just seems entirely too messy and dramatic to me.

But have I ever done anything so risky, put myself and my family and everything else out there, on the line? Umm, don’t think so. Not like Dan Waldschmidt (@DanWaldo) does in his book Edgy Conversations: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Outrageous Success.

Nothing Like Staring at the Barrel of a Gun to Put Things Into Perspective

So Waldschmidt got my attention. Not so much with the his barrel of a gun dramatic start to the book, but with his writing style. Artistic and yes, edgy. There’s something so magnetic about Edgy Conversations that you just have to keep reading.

Yes – it’s Another Success Book, and No it’s Not

He says it’s “not another success book”, but I’m not so sure about that. Success books are mostly the same. They scream, “Hey look at all of these amazing people who failed spectacularly, are you going to sit there and wallow because you think you’re a loser?”

I think what sets it apart from others isn’t the message, so much as the out and out honest and open style with which it’s written.

It’s got all the pre-requisite stories about people who were in the depths of their own crap and then came out of it by BEING rather than DOING. (If you haven’t been paying attention – this whole BEING trend is very hot right now – trust me, I’m doing it too). Waldschmidt takes it to another level, however.

He takes every single one of the 178 GORGEOUS pages of Edgy Conversations to shake you out of your mundane way of thinking and throws some ice cold water on your pity party. (And don’t say you don’t feel sorry for yourself, because if you’re really running a business – you know that you rise and fall hundreds of times during any given day.)

Stop Whining About Wanting It and DO What It Takes to Get It

Chapter after chapter (which have no numbers, by the way) Waldschmitdt brings home the same point; saying you want to be successful, whining about it, dreaming about it, and complaining about it isn’t what gets you there.

Being successful is a function of deciding that you’re going to become more than you ever thought you could and then doing everything it takes to get there. There are more than 1,000 examples of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” to move you along and keep you motivated. Along the way he gives tips, pointers, advice and to-dos to help you get there.

All in all, I would say that he tells it like it is – even though most of us don’t want to hear it.

Here’s a snippet from the chapter entitled “The Discipline of Denying:”

“The addiction to immediate gratification is killing your dream. Addiction is not a good model for inspired living. In fact, it’s unbelievably damaging.

Discussions about addiction usually focus on personal faces like gambling or alcohol, drugs or pornography. Addictions that are socially unacceptable. Addictions that have obvious, dramatic and negative effects.

But no one discusses the subtle, seemingly and not U with addictions that rob us of our true potential. We are not good at admitting the ugly side of under-performance:

We are addicted to fear. We are addicted to making excuses. We’re addicted to passive aggression. We’re addicted to selfishness. We’re addicted to listening to the crowd. We are addicted to vegging in front of the TV. We’re addicted to the safety of a paycheck. We’re addicted to comfort. We’re addicted to taking the easy way out. These are socially acceptable addictions.”

There’s More to This Book Than the Pages it’s Written On

I received a review “package” not just a book.  Edgy Conversations showed up in a box that contained a brochure, a miniature workbook and a note pad to help me get and stay EDGY.

IMG_4545

From the moment I cracked the book open, I knew it would be different. The page normally reserved for quotes from famous people simply said:

“This is where you would normally find opinions and quotes from a bunch of people who say they read the book and liked it.  But really, the only opinion that matters is yours.  So read the book and see what you think.”

Who is This Edgy Guy Anyway?

At this stage of the review, you’re probably wondering who Dan Waldschmidt is and how he got into this barrel of a gun moment, how he got out of it and how he’s able to inspire so many. I’m going to tell you.

He claims he’s not that special or unique, and yet he’s done all the things that successful entrepreneurs do. He started a lawn mowing business at 12, he ran track and pushed himself to break the school’s mile record, he got an entry level job out of college, changed the sales process, added millions in sales and became CEO at 25.

These days he’s a world leading business turn-around strategist, a popular speaker and has what the Wall Street Journal calls one of the top business blogs anywhere on the Internet. There’s more, but you get the picture.

Dan practices what he preaches in Edgy Conversations. He’s unabashedly honest about what’s so and while he says anyone can be successful, I would have to disagree. Not everyone has the guts, tenacity, and discipline that he writes about in Edgy Conversations. But if you’re willing to take on having Edgy Conversations you just might become everything you dare to dream.

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Start Off December With a Ton of Events

The big eventEDIT
The month of December is kicking off with a full week of events. Getting things started Dec. 1 is the Construction Super Conference in Las Vegas. Other events include the Online Educa Berlin Conference on Technology Supported Learning, Holiday Networking and Celebration, and FT Frontier Markets Summit. Check out the full list and see what’s going on near you.

To see a full list or to submit your own event, contest or award listing, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.



Featured Events, Contests and Awards

AM DAYS Affiliate Management Days ConferenceAM DAYS Affiliate Management Days Conference
March 30, 2015, San Francisco, CA

The Affiliate Management Days San Francisco 2015 conference is an event for marketing managers and those responsible for their company’s affiliate marketing strategy, management and operations. Whether you have an existing affiliate program or you’re creating a new initiative, AM Days provides insight into how others are successfully implementing and managing their affiliate programs.


More Events

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This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.
The big event photo via Shutterstock

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