EP135: The Alexa Show

Episode Summary:
Today’s podcast is all about the voice-activated personal assistant, Amazon Alexa.

Topics Covered:

  1. What is Amazon Alexa and how does it work?
  2. What can Alexa do?
  3. What are Amazon Skills & Flash Briefings?
  4. How do you get your podcast on Alexa devices?

Pro Tip for Podcasters & Livestreamers:

Mute the microphone before recording or going live:

On Top of the Amazon Echo & Dot is a little microphone icon. Click the button and the ring around your device will go red. This mutes Alexa and she will not respond to anything. Add muting Alexa to your pre-show checklist!

 

Note:
This is particularly handy if you are recording a podcast about Alexa as she would start talking every time her name is used.😀

What is Amazon Alexa & How Does it Work?

Alexa is a cloud-based, voice-activated virtual assistant and speaker created by Amazon in 2014. Alexa is the brain behind the devices

and the two most popular are the Echo and the Echo Dot.

The Echo is $99 taller and shaped like a cylinder. Buy on Amazon

The Echo Dot is $50 and shaped like a hockey puck Buy on Amazon 

 

Alexa uses artificial intelligence and she can listen, understand and answer most questions and is always improving and updating her features automatically.

 

How to use devices:
You wake Alexa by asking a question or tell her a command by first saying her name and then speak to her and she will do what you ask. Alexa is always on and always listening, so ask away.

You control the settings using an iOS or Android App.

Origin of Alexa Name:
Alexa got her because X is a hard consonant and could be recognized more accurately.

Her name is also reminiscent of the ancient Library of Alexandria and apparently inspired by the computer-voice system on Star Trek.

Note: If your name or someone in your household is named Alexa, you can change the ‘wake name’ as it’s called to anything you want and she will respond only to the new wake name.

What can Alexa do?

First, I just want to say that I am not going to go through all of the models of Alexa devices and I am talking generally about the Echo & Dot which are the most popular in the lineup.

Questions & Answers: you can use Alexa just like Siri or Google and get answers to your questions.

Stream radio stations, music from Amazon Prime, Spotify, play podcasts and even tell your kids bedtime stories.

Productivity & Tasks: Set alarms and timers, make to-do lists, check your calendar and help you in the kitchen with measurements, etc.

Information & News: She can keep you informed with the weather, news and sports scores

Calling and message device if you want to call your friends and family who also have an Alexa device

Smart Home Devices: Alexa will control your smart home devices such as turning on/off lights, thermostats, and any compatible device. One of my favorite things to do is tell Alexa to turn on my studio light. It’s so simple but really handy.

Fun & Games: Alexa has a good sense of humor so ask her to tell you a joke or to sing or one of my favorites is to ask her to tell me a pun. Alexa can play jeopardy and other games.

Shopping: Tell Alexa to buy things from Amazon. Shopping is not going to be restricted to Amazon either as there are areas where you can order Dominos, call for an Uber and order Starbucks for pickup.

And don’t worry, there are restrictions you can put on shopping so not anyone in your house can order stuff.

What are Amazon Skills & Flash Briefings?

Amazon Skills are the power behind Alexa devices as they are what expand the services and functionality. Think of skills like iPhone apps and there are already 1000s of them available. 3rd party developers can create skills and you can enable them to use on your devices through the Alexa app on your phone or on the Amazon website.

Check out Skills on Amazon:

Amazon skills range from games to controlling your Sonos speaker system or playing music from Spotify.

What are Flash Briefings:
Flash briefings are a special type of Alexa Skill that is designed to give short news and information updates from various sources including RSS feeds from blogs and podcasts.

Just like any other skill, you can simply ask Alexa to enable Flash Briefings and when you wake up in the morning you can simply Ask Alexa to serve up your flash briefing and you can also put briefings in what is called Routines.

You can ask Alexa for your morning routine and she can read your to-do list and calendar appointments, tell you the weather and play Flash Briefings.

Flash Briefing

How to make Flash Briefings?

This is not a full tutorial. I’m just giving you the starting point for now.

You can create a Flash Briefing without any coding knowledge and if you are a podcaster already, it should be very easy as you can create a Flash Briefing with your podcast RSS feed or create a new show and use the RSS feed generated from your media host.

All you really need to do is sign up for an Amazon Developer account: and Amazon has tutorials and will walk you through the process. Flash Briefings are the easiest of skills to create. Your RSS feed must be valid and secure (https://) (see issues with RSS Below)

  1. Create Account Amazon Developer Link: https://developer.amazon.com
  2. Support & Help Tutorials:
    https://developer.amazon.com/support
  3. Create a New Skill (Flash Briefing)

RSS Feed Issues & Fixes:

This can get complicated and requires an entire article, but I just wanted to point out a couple of things as my RSS feed was rejected the first time and I just wanted to note that and let you know how I resolved it.

  1. Your RSS feed must be valid and secure (https://) or it will get rejected. The ‘s’ at the end of https:// is required.
    https://www.yourfeed/feed/podcast/
  2. Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates will not work for Amazon Flash Briefings. Let’s Encrypt is free and popular way to make your WordPress site have https://. I use it, but as of now, it is not on Amazon’s list of accepted SSL Certificates.

Workaround Powerpress Users using Let’s Encrypt:
Create a mirror feed of your RSS Feed using Blubrry’s new service PodcastMirror.com
Tip: Ask Blubrry Customer Support for help as their instructions will leave you confused and hanging. It’s not difficult, but it is not immediately clear what is going on, so I went to Plan B

3. Libsyn RSS Feed: I host my media files on Libsyn so I used the Libsyn RSS Feed even though it does not have the ‘s’ at the end of http://

The Trick:
1. Copy Libsyn Feed http://www.yourfeed/feed/podcast/
2. Paste Feed in Amazon Flash Briefing Application:http://www.yourfeed/feed/podcast/
3. Add an ‘s’ manually: https://www.yourfeed/feed/podcast/

Summary:
My RSS Feed Problem & Fix in a Nutshell:
My RSS from WordPress using Let’s Encrypt was rejected.
I used the feed from Libsyn and simply added an ‘s’ after http:// and it worked just fine and my Flash Briefing went live.

HOW DO YOU LISTEN TO PODCASTS ON ALEXA?

To listen to my podcast, I would say, “Alexa, play Mike Murphy Unplugged on TuneIn” and Alexa would pull up my latest episode.

You can rewind and fast forward and pause, etc.
You can also search for your favorite podcasts and music and more on your Alexa app and play it right from your phone (I find using the Alexa app on my iPhone easier to browse for podcasts and then just tap play)

What is TuneIn?
TuneIn is the default podcast directory on Alexa for now, so you just have to make sure your podcast is in the TuneIn Directory if you want your audience to listen to your podcast on Alexa devices.

TuneIn is a free internet radio station and podcast directory just like iTunes or Stitcher or Spreaker, but just happens to be one of the default stations on the Alexa app that has podcasts. Spotify and iHeart Radio also serve up podcasts.

 

 

How To Get Your Podcast in the TuneIn Directory?

You may have already done this when you launched your podcast, so do a search on TuneIn and if you find your show, there is nothing you need to do.

To make sure your listeners can hear your podcast on TuneIn, you simply have to fill out this short form and submit your RSS feed to TuneIn. Real humans process your request, so give it a day or two before you start getting worried.

Fill out the TuneIn Form and paste your RSS Feed:

 

 

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