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Storyline helps you customize your Alexa, no code needed

(TECH NEWS) Storyline makes it easy for non-tech people to create, test, and publish complex voice applications in minutes, using templates and visual mind-map interface.

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You’re alone in your house with Alexa, your trusted companion for answers to easy questions. You have been asking her if you’ll need a sweater today, telling her to shut up (mean!) when you need a quiet moment, and instructing her to set up a 20 minute timer for the tasty DiGiorno pizza you just threw in the oven.

She’s faithful. She’s powerful. But sometimes, you just wish she was a bit more like you.

I’m not talking about your friend Alexa, I’m talking about your Amazon Echo of course! Amazon’s newest system designed to listen in on your deepest darkest secrets. Okay, okay, I can’t prove that.

With 25 million Echos purchased in the United States and an anticipated 130 million users globally by the year 2020, this version of AI will be here for a long time, but it might as well suit your needs now.

If you find yourself looking for more options and a bit more of an organic response from Alexa, there’s a new place to create your own questions and responses to integrate with your Echo device without having to be a code wizard like the engineers over at Amazon.

Alright, so the response won’t exactly be organic, because, well, you have to type it out, but hey! it will at least be something more fun than a simple “Yes” or “No” (think, Awesome! or Sounds lit!).

A new, free (!!), web app called Storyline allows you to create, test, and publish a new Alexa skill in just minutes using their online visual interface. No code, no backend, no servers. Just sign up, type in your questions and your desired responses and boom–Alexa will respond just how you’d like.

While this would work for some easy party tricks, it could come in handy if you’re looking to either create a specific skill that you want to use frequently or just add some less robotic answers from Alexa.

The Amazon Echo already has an extensive list of skills built in, but most of them are Amazon-product related and it would definitely be beneficial to add some skills specific to your needs as you wait for Amazon to get around to adding full conversational ability to Alexa’s lexicon.

Storyline is great because you can test things and use them just for yourself, you can share them with friends, or you can even publish them for some profit! The founder of Storyline wrote a blog post with screenshots and simple instructions to get you going.

With this new approach, Storyline has taken a step towards allowing those millions of users to have the power of customization normally reserved for those privy to the one’s and two’s of coding. Whether you prefer your home’s AI to be more robust or not, this service shows how fast technology is moving and how fun it can be.

Will hails from Northern California, earned a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University, and now calls Austin, Texas home where he works at a tech startup. He likes riding his bike an ungodly amount of miles and his favorite aesthetic is an open road. If you see him around he'll likely be reading a classic American novel and drinking a Topo Chico.

Tech News

Facebook Ads Manager unreliability keeps dumpster fire rep alive

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The Facebook Ads Manager isn’t exactly reliable, refunds aren’t offered, and social media practitioners hate the (still) necessary evil.

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If there is one thing upon which we can rely when it comes to Facebook, it’s disappointing us. Sure, it is clear that the platform has done amazing things to connect people from all over the world. It allows the sharing of passions, photos, ideas, lifestyles, and pointlessly hilarious memes. But we have all glimpsed the dark underbelly of the social media giant.

Facebook regularly shows us the ugliest side of ourselves. This is a topic that is covered ALL. THE. TIME. How many of us have expressed our regret that Auntie posted insensitive views with the same pride she shares her great-grandchild’s first touchdown in the junior divisional beauty pageant and peewee football game?

But the content created by users is not Facebook’s latest letdown.

Ad buyers are regularly unable to see the analytics of their campaigns. For example, on October 29th, a number of digital media professionals found the Facebook Ads Manager to be unresponsive for hours. This lapse in availability is devastating to those who purchase ad space. This was aggravated by the fact that many campaigns were time sensitive, as they focused on the midterm elections.

Further, online advertisers rely on instant feedback and data to inform their next decisions. Many have expressed that the October 29th outage is a fairly regular occurrence with Facebook and continues to make their jobs nightmares.

Additionally, refunds were not offered for the time advertisers had purchased and not been able to use.

This recent occurrence appears to be the longest shutdown of FB Ads Manager, contributing to the dumpster fire of a reputation Facebook ads have cultivated.

We continue to ask – how can such a wealthy and dominating platform not get this issue into check? Or is it part of a broader design to lower expectations and soak up money like an adult child living in their parent’s basement, with no end in sight?

Facebook continues to decline commenting on their unreliability. Perhaps they know that all the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers will continue to use, share, swoon, and offend regardless of internal issues, and that advertisers will not (for some time) be able to subsist without reaching these groups.

For now, it seems Facebook is still in the driver’s seat. Whether or not they know how to drive this dumpster on wheels is another matter.

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Silicon Valley created tech for your family that’s too addictive for theirs

(TECHNOLOGY) Tech inventors are big on innovating and advancing tools, but a growing parenting trend in tech circles seems hypocritical.

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I consider myself an older Millennial. I was slowly but surely introduced to technologies as they became mass-marketable, but they didn’t affect every moment of my day-to-day life. I learned how to use computers in elementary school, I chatted on AOL as a preteen, and when I was 16, my parents gave me my own cell phone “for emergencies.” I promptly dropped it under the car seat, where it remained for a year, before I or my parents even noticed that it was missing.

In less than a generation, our relationship to cell phones has transformed completely. For one thing, my first cell phone didn’t have a touchscreen. It didn’t have an internet connection. Hell, for an entire year, I didn’t even use the damn thing.

Fast forward to 2018, when your children can learn to use an iPad at the same time that they learn to use a toilet.

Interestingly, the tech whizzes who designed much of the technology that now pervades nearly every moment of our lives seem wariest of the negative impact screen time might have on kids. The NYT reports that the trend amongst Silicon Valley parents is to severely limit or even ban cell phone use by their children.

Parents in all echelons of the tech industry are limiting their kids’ exposure. Steve Jobs kept iPads out of the hands of his young children. The Gates offspring didn’t receive cell phones until high school (just like me, in 2001), and Tim Cook discourages his nephew from using social networks.

These concerned parents describe the addictive potential and negative consequences of screen time in increasingly pessimistic terms.

Athena Chavarria, a former Facebook employee, believes that “the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Chris Anderson (yes that Chris Anderson), former editor of Wired and founder of GeekDad, says that when it comes to screens, “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Parents are even making contractual agreements to make sure their kids don’t use screens while under the supervision of their nanny or babysitter.

Like basically every human idea or invention ever, connected, screened devices reveal that our ability to create new technologies far outpaces our ability to understand the consequences – positive or negative – of that tech.

Those closest to the situation – the inventors themselves – are often the first ones to sound the alarm when they realize that their hard-won advancements may not have been such a great idea after all.

Said Chris Anderson of the addictive nature of cell phones, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control.”

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Why entrepreneurs are flocking to the pet technology space

(TECH) Pet technology is a burgeoning, $70B industry, but what makes it so attractive to entrepreneurs aside from kittens and puppers?

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According to science and/or math, the internet is fueled by pet pictures. We all love pictures of animals, but more than that, we love our actual tangible animals, and as a culture, we’ve used social media to do more than share – we’re all learning from each other about best practices and products.

We’ve noticed that the pet technology space is figuratively blowing up right now, so we asked Greg Tariff, Founder and CEO of Fetch my Pet why the industry’s blossoming in such a way.

In his own words below, Tariff effectively explains why entrepreneurs are making their way into the $70 billion industry:

This growth is driven in part by millennial consumers: about 75% in their 30s own a dog and about 50% own a cat—and 44% see their pets as “starter children.” In other words, millennials not only own more pets than any other generation, but offer a better standard of care and are changing the pet business landscape with their buying habits. Millennials think of pets as family.

It’s a great time for entrepreneurs to be making their way into the pet technology space. Studies show consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality food and pet products, and they are ready to engage in experiences with their pets. Now it’s up to pet brands to connect with these pet owners on a deeper level, and I believe technology can bridge that gap. Here’s how technology is improving pet ownership thanks to a number of new innovations and a shift in consumer trends:

Humans can interact with pets remotely. Marketed as “digital daycare for pets,” technology like PetChatz lets pet parents interact with their pets from outside of the home. The need for this type of technology is driven in part by our view of pets. We no longer see pets as owned objects, but rather members of our family. How we classify pets has a ripple effect on the pet ownership experience. Consumers are more willing to pay for high quality products and services, and businesses will have to offer the highest-quality experiences to retain customers. Plus there’s a market for technology like PetChatz that allows us to interact with our pets from a distance in real time.

Making pet life management simple for pet parents. Worldwide online sales of pet food increased from 6 to 14 percent in 2016, with sales of dog and cat food rising at least 14% in the U.S. alone. It’s very easy for pet owners to click to order food, find places to walk and play with their pets, and connect with other pet owners. For example, Fetch my Pet is learning about customers and their pet needs to make more contextual suggestions. If you have an 7-year-old Golden Retriever, your technology shouldn’t tell you to buy puppy food or puppy Chew toys. As pet life management technology continues to advance, the pet ownership experience will become more personalized and intuitive.

Artificial Intelligence enables predictive fulfillment. As more data is collected on pets and their habits via makers of the products and services consumed by pet parents, we will soon have the ability to embark on preventative pet healthcare and predictive fulfilment of products and services for our pets. What if Petco sent you a notification once they had a new sustainable dog food in stock because they knew you were low on kibble? We’re inching close to this reality.

Paving the way for brand and ingredient integrity. The more innovation that occurs in the pet space, the more selective consumers can be about what they purchase and why. We care very deeply about what we feed our pets. According to Purina, young adults are more likely than other groups to research foods when designing their pet’s diet, and they like to have options that include natural ingredients and real meat.

Companies like BareItAll Petfoods are taking food-sourcing one step further by selling food products made from Asian Carp, which threaten to harm waterways including the Great Lakes. Businesses are doing their part to get smarter about ingredient integrity – and consumers are being more selective.

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