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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.

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How to personalize your site for every visitor without learning code

(TECH NEWS) New tool from Proof lets you personalize your website for visitors without coding. Experiences utilizes your users to create the perfect view for them.

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experiences welcome page

What if you could personalize every step of the sales funnel? The team over at Proof believes this is the next best step for businesses looking to drive leads online. Their new tool, Experiences, is a marketer-friendly software that lets you personalize your website for every visitor without coding.

Using Experiences your team can create a targeted experience for the different types of visitors coming to your website. The personalization is thought to drive leads more efficiently because it offers visitors exactly the information they want. Experiences can also be used to A/B test different strategies for your website. This could be a game changer for companies that target multiple specific audiences.

Experiences is a drag-and-drop style tool, which means nearly anyone on your team can learn to use it. The UX is meant to be intuitive and simple, so you don’t need a web developer to guide you through the process. In order to build out audiences for your website, Experiences pulls data from your CRM, such as SalesForce and Hubspot, or you can utilize a Clearbit integration which pull third-party information.

Before you go rushing to purchase a new tool for your team, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to Proof, personalization is best suited for companies with at least 15,000 plus visitors per month. This volume of visitors is necessary for Experiences to gather the data it needs to make predictions. The tool is also recommended for B2B businesses since company data is public.

The Proof team is a success story of the Y Combinator demo day. They pitched their idea for a personalized web experience and quickly found themselves funded. Now, they’ve built out their software and have seen success with their initial clients. Over the past 18 months, their early-access clients, which included brands like Profitwell and Shipbob, have seen an increase in leads, proposals, and downloads.

Perhaps the best part of Proof is that they don’t just sell you a product and walk away. Their website offers helpful resources for customers called Playbooks where you can learn how to best use the tool to achieve your company’s goals be it converting leads or engaging with your audience. If this sounds like exactly the tool your team needs, you can request a demo on their website.

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German company funded to become the WhatsApp for employee messaging

(TECH NEWS) Chat apps have been a staple for online communication, and a new one from Germany is hoping to take the top spot from WhatsApp.

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chat app Flip

It’s insane how many chat programs there are out there.

There’s iMessage/texting, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messaging, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and so much more. But one thing I think is pretty comical is chat trends within businesses and how this kind of software has affected the market.

To give some background, about 2 decades ago, chat was incredibly popular. You probably remember AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). This was the first online chat tool I used to stay in touch with friends, family, and colleagues.

In the late 90s all the way through the 2000s, chat was the thing – all the cool kids did it. Of course, most programs were pretty primitive in the early years, only offering group chat and direct messaging.

Despite their popularity, though, chat systems had a brief moment where they faded into the background, which lead to an eventual closure of otherwise popular chat software. Most recently, AIM, which had been holding on by a thread for years, closed after 20 years.

Now, it makes perfect sense why AIM closed. They weren’t able to compete with other devices that had similar built-in programs, like Apple’s iMessage. Eventually, desktop chat’s popularity became a thing of the past. But now we’re seeing a mass resurgence of chat features as businesses and marketers-alike realize the immense power chat software has in a variety of applications.

For example, in the newest wave of online retail selling (eCommerce), which has quickly become a flooded market, companies are looking to differentiate themselves by not only providing your average support (email and phone) but also by including customer-facing chat software, like Zendesk Chat (previously Zopim) and LiveChat, for their customers.

eCommerce is growing in popularity pretty quickly, and given recent trends where businesses are focused on immediate assistance, it only makes sense why they’d consider utilizing chat to assist their customers, and in turn, earn more sales.

But, although this background gives you some color to the history of chat and messaging software, that’s not exactly what this story is about.

In recent years, especially during the explosion of startups, it has become incredibly clear that companies can easily become tangled in their own company structure.

Sometimes companies hire off shore, sometimes they hire remote workers, and sometimes they simply have departments that are so separated, they never communicate with each other. For example, when I worked at Apple in Austin, Texas (2013-2014), in a large building with 4 floors and thousands of employees spread out all over, it was critical that I kept in touch with my immediate co-workers and other departments.

Apple’s solution (an elegant one at the time) was to suggest we use their native messaging software, iMessage, but even then, I noticed some serious drawbacks. Aside from the many missing valuable features, such as the ability to connect productivity applications (or any applications for that matter) and create more robust, specific group chats, the tool just didn’t feel like something we should be using in a corporate setting, let alone a startup.

And that’s around the time I started to notice new chat software, like Slack, enter the world – software that would improve communication between departments and co-workers, as well as offer the ability to connect important tools via API and, eventually through “app marketplaces”. The shift to app marketplaces was a great one, too, because before it existed (created in 2015), you had to be a developer to make apps work with the tool.

Because of all of this functionality, and the extreme need to stay in touch with all sorts of people that relate to your company or job, Slack has quickly become the chat provider. So much so that it’s now basically a household name and is being expanded to support like-minded communities, like what’s shown on the Medium.com site. In fact, I can confidently say that chat has come full circle in its popularity, for all sorts of applications.

But with Slack growing at an exponential speed (it’s in Silicon Valley’s hall of fame as the fastest growing business app), I’ve often wondered if there are any tools out there that could compare. So far, I’ve not found one, but a recent announcement by Tech Crunch proves that there are other companies out there who are trying to enter the company communication market. One such company, Flip, who is run by CEO Benedikt Ilg, is a Germany-based employee communication application that may fit the bill.

The company was founded in 2018 and received a whopping $4M in funding. They aim to connect employees and teams through their robust application, which offers features such as a personalized business-related news feeds, employee-specific profiles, cross-platform support, personalized branding, and of course, chatting via their messenger tool. They also brag about their security features, an ever-growing concern amongst most business owners.

According to their website, the company employs 19 people and a pretty adorable dog named Hazel (Chief Happiness Officer). It doesn’t look like the app is readily available to the public yet, but I can only hope it will be soon, as they start to use their funding, which was meant to hire more employees and to expand in general.

According to Tech Crunch, “The startup has now secured customers including Porsche, Bauhaus, Edeka, Junge IG Metall and Wüstenrot & Württembergische. Parts of Sparkasse and Volksbank are also among the customer base. Deutsche Telekom is also a partner.”

Needless to say, once this application becomes available, I’ll definitely test it out to compare to my current toolset, which mostly consists of Slack and associated apps/connections.

With any company, communication between departments is crucial to keep all aspects of it working like a well-oiled machine.

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Productivity hacks for tools you already have

(TECH NEWS) No downloading obscure apps to increase your productivity here. This website gives you productivity hacks to utilize the tools you already have.

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productivity hacks with productivity.so

If you find yourself searching for productivity hacks on the internet, chances are you’re already procrastinating. We’ve all been there and sometimes you do need to invest a little time upfront in order to save time long-term. The problem is that most “productivity hacks” recommend you download a new app or software which means you need to invest time in learning how to use it. All of this strays you further and further from your original goal of working more efficiently and saving time.

A new website called Productivity.so is designed to save you time by better utilizing the tools you’re already using. The websites founders are self-proclaimed productivity lovers who have devoted their own time to collecting a pool of productivity hacks for you iPhone, computer, Gmail, and more. No downloading obscure apps to increase your productivity here.

This website focuses on helping you make your current technology as useful as possible.

It’s a safe bet that there are dozens of ways you could be using your phone, computer, or tablet more efficiently. No one stops to read the instruction manual and even if you did it would only be so helpful because modern technology updates. Everything from your computer to your favorite social media app is constantly pushing out updates with new productivity hacks just waiting to be found.

It’s impossible to keep up on your own! Earlier today I realized you can switch between Twitter accounts by holding down the home button. I use this app every day, but I couldn’t tell you if this a new feature or if I just noticed it.

Productivity.so could be a great way to stay up to date on the latest UX tricks that will help you and your team speed up your workflow. The website currently hosts a small library of hacks that users can browse through. The next great breakthrough in your productivity could be waiting.

The website also offers a free weekly newsletter which promises to send you two new productivity hacks each week. These hacks will be simple tricks like switching between Gmail accounts by holding down your avatar. They’re easy enough that you can start implementing them into your daily routine right away.

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