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DIY: Project Alias protects your privacy from invasive smart speakers

(TECHNOLOGY) Smart speakers are beloved, and oh so helpful, but they’re always listening, no matter what tech companies say. This DIY stops that.

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DIY culture has a solution for everything, including protecting your privacy. Home assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, while helpful, are constantly listening for commands which means any nearby conversation is free game for information gathering. On the bright side, Karmann’s Project Alias is a “parasitic” device that gives you control in what your home assistant device hears.

True to its function, a Project Alias device looks like a parasitic growth that can fit atop your Amazon Echo or Google Home. Inside its 3D-printed shell are a Raspberry Pi A+, a ReSpeaker 2-Mics Pi HAT, and a pair of small speakers.

Once you install the Project Alias code, you can use your phone to connect to the device, and train it with a “wake” word. The Echo or Google Home will not hear you until you say this “wake” word to Project Alias.

Ta-da! Privacy is back in your hands! (Some assembly required).

The pieces to make your own Project Alias device, while attainable, (Office Max and Staples offer 3D printing services), requires some hands-on work and possibly several trips to the store. When all is said and done, the overall cost in time and money can add up. It’d be much simpler if a Project Alias device came in the mail or on a store shelf ready to roll.

This is sounding like prime Kickstarter material here.

The exploitation of privacy through our smart devices including phones, tablets, laptops, tvs, gaming consoles, etc. is becoming a common concern. Not only are we feeling attacked by advertisements that feel like they’re reading our thoughts, but anything said around these devices is collectable data.

Unfortunately, it’s wishful thinking to have any trust in the gadgets we own.

A device like Project Alias is a long time coming and needed now more than ever. Until tech companies begin to take measures to protect the privacy of their customers (which isn’t in their financial interest), we’re likely to see a new market for devices like Project Alias. The odds are you’ll need more than one.

Staff Writer, Allison Yano is an artist and writer based in LA. She holds a BFA in Applied Visual Arts and Minor in Writing from Oregon State University, and an MFA in Fine Art from Pratt Institute. Her waking hours are filled with an insatiable love of storytelling, science, and soy lattes.

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Offer customers a frictionless online experience with these updates

(MARKETING) Companies of all sizes still have clunky, hard-to-use websites – here’s how to fix that and offer a quality online experience.

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The internet has clearly done wonders for retailers and businesses that sell physical products. Ecommerce is exploding and the evolution of various platforms makes it possible for even the smallest of companies to create their own global supply chains with very little upfront investment or cost. But don’t forget about service-based businesses – such as beauty salons, yoga studios, gyms, chiropractors, and massage centers. These types of businesses have benefited tremendously as well.

The internet has given service businesses the opportunity to increase exposure, drive leads, and better engage modern customers in a convenient manner. However, with great opportunities come incredible responsibilities.

If you want your business to be competitive in today’s landscape, you have to offer customers and clients a frictionless online experience, or a so-called omnichannel solution.

Smooth user experience (UX) is what separates successful businesses from average ones when it comes to online marketing and lead generation. If you want to offer frictionless UX to your customers, here’s where you need to start:

1. Understand buyer journeys
“Today, customer interactions are continuous, contextual, highly personalized and ever-changing, no matter if the customer is on an iPad, talking to Alexa, or entering a subway station,” digital marketing expert David Aponovich points out.

The problem a lot of businesses encounter is a misunderstanding of the customer buyer journey. They view it in isolation, instead of as a long-term play.

“When you start to build digital experiences around your consumers’ actual lives and stop thinking in one-time purchases, you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors,” Aponovich continues. “Removing friction? It starts by being where your customers want you and need you to be.”

2. Offer convenient scheduling
No more asking customers to call the office or send an email in order to schedule an appointment. Rarely will a customer remember to do this. And if they do, it creates an unnecessary hitch in the buying process. You need to offer more convenient scheduling options.

An online appointment scheduling resource will help tremendously with this aspect of UX. A tool like SimplyBook.me makes it easy for smaller businesses (with minimal resources) to streamline the scheduling process for customers and clients. Customers can seamlessly move from interest to purchase/scheduling in the same step.

3. Present plenty of visuals
Nobody likes clutter. As you know, minimalism is the best policy in modern web design. If you want to give your visitors what they’re looking for, ditch the superfluous elements and meaty paragraphs. Instead, opt for high-quality visuals that say more with less.

4. Increase website functionality
Your website should be more than a receptacle for content – or even a platform for scheduling appointments. While these are important aspects, the site itself needs to be functional. This could look like selling physical products directly from the site (if you have them) or offering interactive content that addresses key customer pain points.

5. Make yourself discoverable
It’s easy to believe that UX is all about your website experience, but it actually encompasses a lot more than that. If you want to keep your customers happy, they need to be able to find you. Today, leading brands are putting a huge emphasis on social media, online word of mouth, SEO, and PPC advertising. Prioritize discoverability and you give yourself a pretty big head start.

The internet gives your business an opportunity to reach your target market in a manner that few who went before you would have ever dreamt possible. But it’s not enough to simply reach your audience. Once you engage them, you have to expose them to the frictionless online experience in order to drive conversions and grow your brand. Take some time to think about how you’re doing in this area.

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Microsoft to become 3rd largest gaming company after Blizzard acquisition

(TECHNOLOGY) Microsoft will not be left behind in the Metaverse. The tech giant plans to fully acquire Activision Blizzard by 2023 for $68.7 billion cash.

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The front of the Microsoft office with large Microsoft logo.

Microsoft announced plans to acquire the video game publisher, Activision Blizzard, on January 18, 2022, in an all-cash transaction reported to be valued at $68.7 billion.

The deal gives the tech giant popular game franchises, such as World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, and many more to add to its arsenal. This acquisition sets Microsoft up to be the third-largest gaming company by revenue.  Microsoft expects the deal to close in the 2023 fiscal year (which begins in July of this calendar year) once the customary closing conditions have been completed along with the regulatory review and Activision Blizzard’s shareholder approval. Both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s board of directors have already approved the deal.

This deal comes in hot on the heels of an avalanche of issues surrounding sexual harassment where 37 employees have reportedly left Activision Blizzard according to this article on The Verge. Microsoft states that Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and he and his team will maintain their focus on driving efforts to further strengthen the company’s culture and accelerate business growth. Once the deal closes, the Activision Blizzard business will report to Phil Spencer, CEO, Microsoft Gaming.

Phil Spencer, the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, posted both Activision and Microsoft Gaming will continue to operate independently until the deal is complete with Activision Blizzard then all business will be reported to Spencer.

“Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms,” said Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO, Microsoft. “We’re investing deeply in world-class content, community, and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive, and accessible to all.”

Maybe you noticed the not-so-subtle hint regarding the Metaverse by Microsoft’s chairman and CEO Satya Nadella, but it seems everyone is quick to mention to the public and or other companies listening that they are gearing up to bring their A-game to the Metaverse. Whatever that ends up being.

In the meantime, we can predict some of the possible changes to come from this buyout. Microsoft currently has Game Pass, their subscription-based model for Xbox, which recently hit 25 million subscribers. Now’s the time to sign up for the Game Pass subscription before prices go up to match the revamped gaming inventory. Microsoft could potentially lock down new releases and not deliver them on other platforms, i.e., PlayStation, giving them exclusivity and driving subscription sign-ups.

Whatever ends up happening, Microsoft is making big moves to not be left behind in the gaming world or the Metaverse.

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Want to save snippets of a Zoom meeting? Listener makes it possible!

(TECHNOLOGY) Listener lets you screenshot or bookmark important sections of live meetings, as well as curate a playlist of snippets, to share or playback.

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Listener for Zoom tool landing page on laptop.

We live in a very computer-mediated world where the bulk of communication is done virtually. Many of us spend a great deal of time – whether for work or pleasure – on video calls connecting with people that we’re unable to meet with in person.

Zoom became the unofficial mascot for the pandemic and has shown no signs of going anywhere. So naturally, people are looking for ways to put this to even more of an advantage – like by creating messaging extensions to utilize in lieu of live meetings.

Now the folks behind Listener are getting in on the action by creating Listener for Zoom.

The new tool allows users to bookmark important moments of Zoom calls in real-time and easily turn long recordings into bite-sized video clips.

As founder Nishith Shah puts it, “Zoom meetings just got more productive!”

Listener allows users to do a myriad of things, including live bookmarking to create short video clips; ability to transcribe your entire meeting; edit video clips by using transcripts instead of struggling with video editing tools; share video highlights with your team; create playlists from video highlights across different Zoom meetings to tell powerful stories; use projects to organize your meetings and playlists.

Founders say that Listener is designed for pretty much anyone who uses Zoom. In early testing, the founders found that it is especially helpful for product managers and UX researchers who do customer interviews.

They also reported that early-stage founders have been using Listener to add powerful customer videos to their investor pitch decks. It is also helpful for recruiters and hiring managers who search transcripts across hundreds of hiring interviews to remember who said what and to pass on important clips to other people in the interview process.

The tool is also beneficial for teams and hiring, as customer success and sales teams create a knowledge base with Listener to train and onboard new employees. They also use it to pass on customer feedback to the product teams.

This could also be great for clipping video elements that are appropriate for social media use.

On January 11, 2022, Listener was awarded #3 Product of the Day on Product Hunt.

Listener for Zoom is free while in Beta. The tool works only with licensed (paid) Zoom accounts.

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