Sunday, 24 June 2018

How You Can Create an Amazon Alexa Skill for Your Business

When Amazon brought in Alexa it at once changed how people interacted with devices. The convenience and ease of voice assistance has pushed this technology into nearly every new device, from laptops to even lawn mowers. Now, while Alexa comes equipped with a wide range of uses, small businesses can also take advantage of this technology through Amazon's Alexa for Business initiative, which provides resources and support for Alexa in the workplace. Business owners with Alexa devices, like the Echo, Echo Spot, Echo Dot or Echo Show, can use various voice commands to carry out important business tasks, like ordering new supplies or starting a video meeting. Businesses can also create their own skills with Alexa and use Amazon's APIs to build on existing interfaces.
Google reports that 20 percent of mobile searches in 2016 were voice searches, and Amazon holds 76 percent of the smart device voice assistance. And so now, if your business has a skill, it can help promote your brand and reach that voice-searching audience. The trick is making sure your Alexa skill doesn't overlap with the competition.
Furthermore, creating a customized skill with Alexa is a developer's task, so it's important to have a good handle on coding basics before you begin. Developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit to strategize and build new skills. The kit is a resource that provides step-by-step instructions. Depending on what you want to create, the Alexa interface supports Amazon's coding language Lambda. You'll also need an Amazon Developer account, which is a free service from Amazon.
Before you create an Alexa skill, it's a good idea to review what productivity skills are already out there. The skill you're looking to create may already exist, and you can install them to your Alexa devices through your Amazon account. Skills can start from calendar assistants to e-commerce platform plug-ins

How to create a skill: Here...Amazon separates Alexa's skills into various models, which include custom interactions, smart home skills, video skills, list skills and flash briefing skills. These pathways include varying support for developers. The flash briefing skills, for example, have a pre-built API that allows for more efficient skill-building while custom interaction skills require more legwork in defining terminology and the overall interaction model. This is the main difference between custom interactions and the rest of Amazon's skill models. Defining terminology and the interaction model can provide more flexibility, but it can also entail more work.

Custom interactions and skills: A major here is that the difference between custom skills and other models lie in the beginning of the process. To create a custom skill, you need to define intents, invocation names and sample utterances. Intents are the overall actions you want Alexa to carry out, with sample utterances representing the specific words and phrases used to jumpstart an intent. The invocation name is used to identify the overall skill.
Amazon provides a breakdown of these terms and an example of a custom interaction skill on its website. It uses a skill for getting tide information from Tide Pooler where the intent is identified as "OneshotTideIntent." In addition to defining the user interaction, you are also able to provide images, audio files and video files to accompany your skill. These can appear in the Alexa app and can help carry out the goal of your skill.

After defining the user interaction, you create a new skill in the developer console and continue building it. Amazon provides examples of custom skill structures as well as a step-by-step guide on creating custom skills that addresses each component and helps developers create new ones.

Custom skills through APIs: Using Amazon's pre-built models stands that you won't have to define the user interaction like in a custom interaction. This allows you to quickly build skills in Amazon's platform. The company breaks down each skill API so you can build business-specific skills in each.

Depending on the skill you need to create, there are several APIs to work from. Each has different instructions. If you're considering what kind of skill you want to create, it would be best to create one within one of these pathways and work from what Amazon has made available.

Bottom line: In order to get started, you need to have a background in web development or be willing to work with a developer. Amazon provides a lot of how-tos on its website, but it will likely be difficult to create your own skill with limited coding experience.
For small businesses, a lot of special skills have likely already been created and can be installed on Alexa devices through Amazon's website. There are endless use cases, ranging from controlling smart home devices, like lights, to contacting colleagues.
Thanks for reading...

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Google Photos:Some awesome new features you need to start using

For years,Google has been dabbling in photo hosting. But it wasn’t until it released the revamped Google Photos in May 2015 that it really took photo archiving seriously. We can now back up all our photos for free, and even get our images printed in Photo Books. But Photos leverages Google’s machine learning muscle to do a lot of other cool things—you just need to know where to look.
Favorite photos: Google Photos makes it easy to save all your photos, but there are probably some you like more than others. When you come across those pics, you can add them to your favorites for easy access in the future. To mark something as a favorite in Photos, just tap to view it and look for the star at the top of your screen. Tap the star, and your photo appears instantly in the “Favorites” album. This is a special album visible only to you inside Google Photos, but you can still share the items inside it.
Assistant tab: You’re probably familiar with “Assistant” as the voice-activated AI in your phone and Google’s smart speakers. However, there’s a different Assistant in Google Photos. Just slide over to the Assistant tab to see what it can do.

The Assistant tab includes basic housekeeping suggestions like archiving screenshots or receipts. However, it also generates suggested edits to your photos. For example, you might get a fun filtered version of a pic or a little collage of similar images. You might even get a fancy “color pop” image that highlights the subject in color and fades the rest of the photo to monochrome. When you see something you like in the Assistant tab, just tap the “Save” button to add it your library.
Create custom collages: Should you poke around in the Assistant tab, you’ll probably see collages. If you want to make your own, there are tools for that in the app. Open the overflow menu and select collage. You can also go over to the Assistant tab and tap collage at the top of the screen. You can pick between two and nine photos for Photos to drop into the collage. Unfortunately, you don’t have control over which images go in which frames. Google’s AI optimizes the composition for you.

Google Lens: Google uses machine learning to catalog all your pics in Google Photos, but you can take it a step further with Google Lens. This image analysis tool goes beyond simply figuring out what’s in a photo, and actually provides actionable information. It’s not perfect, but Lens already has some very cool capabilities.

To use Lens, find a picture to analyze and expand it to full-screen. Tap the Lens icon at the bottom of the display to turn Google’s neural network loose on the image. Currently, Lens is great at identifying books, logos, landmarks, addresses, and some more esoteric things like dog breeds. You’ll get useful web links and other actions based on the recognized objects. You can also use Lens to copy text from an image.
Edit your videos and movies: The photos in Google Photos get most of the attention, but let’s not forget that the platform also backs up your videos. Google even included some basic video editing tools in the app. These tools come in two versions. When looking at one of your videos, you can tap the settings button at the bottom of the screen. This page lets you rotate and stabilize the video—great if you were holding the phone at an awkward angle to capture the moment.

The other editing interface resides in the movie creation section of the app. This is accessible from the overflow menu in the main photo tab. You can choose one or more video (under “Select Photos and Videos”), and then splice them together, trim the ends, and export the project as a new file. Also, don’t ignore the automatic movie options in this menu like Selfie Movie, Doggy Movies, and so on. These are generated using Google’s AI, so they take a while to process on Google’s servers.
Free up storage: So, now you’ve gotten all your images in Google Photos, do you really need them all locally on your phone as well? If you’re in need of space, Google Photos makes it easy to clear out the clutter. Scroll up to the top of your main photo tab and tap on the line that says “Free up [some amount of space] from device.” After confirming on the popup, Google Photos will remove all photos and videos from your phone that have already been backed up to Google’s cloud. You can still access those images at any time in Google Photos.
Name people: Face detection was one of earliest examples of Google Photos’ machine-learning. From the very beginning, can could open the Photos search interface, type in “people,” and see groupings of all the faces that commonly appear in your photos. That’s neat, but you can make this feature even more useful by attaching names to those faces.

To add names, open the search screen and type “people”—the app should suggest People & Pets. You can also tap the arrow next to the line of portraits under the search box. This opens a series of thumbnails of all the common faces that appear in your Photos archives. Tap a face (or pet), and then select “Add a name” to add a private label. With that done, you can use that label to search for photos of that person. For example, “Rachel in Florida” will pull up photos of someone you’ve labeled “Rachel” that were taken in Florida.

Quick select photos: Google Photos makes it easy to save every photo you take, but that can add up to a lot of photos. If you need to select multiple photos—say, for batch deletion—the default way in most apps is to long-press then tap on additional items. However, you can select multiple items in Google Photos without a bunch of tedious tapping.

To select multiple photos, simply long-press and drag up or down. Photos will be selected as you go, and the further you drag, the faster photos will be selected. When you release, you can tap individual photos to add or remove them from the selection. This is great for bulk actions when sharing, creating albums, or just clearing out unwanted pics.

Shared libraries: A recent Photos addition that really shows off Google’s machine learning is “Share your library,” which you can access from the app’s navigation slide-out menu. You can share your entire photo library with someone else, but there are a number of options that make it a more targeted and useful experience.

The first step is deciding which contacts you want included in the share. Once you pick a recipient, the app will ask you to narrow down your sharing parameters. The default setting is “All photos,” but you can limit the share to only photos of specific people—perfect for parents who want to share photos of their kids with other family members. Just pick your kid’s face from a list of all detected faces, and that’s it. You can also set a date from which photos will be shared going forward. It can be the current day or some day in the past.

Your recipients will get instant access to matching photos as you take them, and can choose to copy them into their own library. You can also turn off the shared library at any time.
Sharing links: When you share a photo in Google Photos, it pops up the standard Android share menu. However, there’s a special option hidden in there. Tap “Create link,” and you instantly create a link that works for anyone with the URL. This works with multiple images, and there’s also a toggle to allow others to add photos to the album at that link.

The link is copied to your clipboard, so you can send it to any app you want. Only those with access to the link will be able to see the album. Should you ever want to discontinue access to that shared image or images, just head over the shared tab in the Photos app. Your links are shown here, alongside regular albums. Tap on the link and use Menu > Delete. This is also where you can add more images to your shared link, if you so choose.
Shared albums: It’s easy to share individual images with Google Photos, but you can also share entire albums. This gives you expanded sharing capabilities, and it’s much simpler when you need to share a lot of photos.

The first step is simply to pick an album. This can be something you’ve made yourself manually or an automatically generated album from Photos. This second point is key because Google Photos is great at organizing photos from an outing or event. When viewing the album, tap the share button at the top of the screen. You can use any method you like to let people see the photos in your album, but you should choose the direct Photos sharing option if your friend is also a Photos user.

You can allow others to add photos to the album, and if you connect to someone via Photos, they get notifications when new pics are added. You will always see user icons at the top of shared albums to remind you of who has been invited. Those viewing the album can even leave comments for everyone to see. Like link sharing, you can shut off access to the shared album at any time.
Archiving photos: Google Photos uploads everything, and sometimes you don’t want all the stuff it backs up to be in the main feed. That doesn’t mean you want to delete it, though. That’s why archiving was added to Google Photos.

To archive photos, open them or select multiple images at once using the quick-select trick explained above. Then, go to Menu > Archive. Archived photos will remain in your private archive, accessible via the navigation menu. Archived images are kept in any shared albums, but they won’t clutter up your main feed. This is great for screenshots and images of receipts.

Google Photos had been getting plenty of attention because it’s the perfect place to show off machine learning. That means we’ll probably see new innovations on a regular basis. These tips are only the beginning.

This story, was originally published by PCWorld.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Nine Tools to Improve Your Content Marketing

First of all-businesses of any size can take advantage of content marketing. Whether you need help researching keywords, scheduling blog posts or analyzing your web traffic, there's a tool out there to keep you on track.So while this is on ground, we've rounded up a list of resources that will improve your content marketing, including many free options

1. Answer the Public

What it is: keyword research tool

How it works: Answer the Public enables you to research long-tail keywords to use in blog posts and website content to improve your search ranking.
Enter a seed keyword related to your business, and it returns a list of related keywords, built out of the autofill feature that search engines use to complete queries. Though it will give you hundreds of results, Answer the Public does not tell you how popular your keywords are or how many other websites already use them.

Cost: Free

2. LongTailPro

What it is: keyword research tool

How it works: LongTailPro is a more advanced keyword tool. With both cloud and downloaded versions, you are able to access it from anywhere. Like other keyword researchers, you can find long-tail keywords related to your seed keyword.
It also shows you how many people search for keywords as well as how many other sites compete for them, allowing you to optimize your website while avoiding competition. If you use pay-per-click advertising for your business, it advises you on the value of keywords before you bid on them.

Cost: Subscriptions start at $37 per month; many websites offer promo codes or free trials.

3. Grammarly

What it is: web browser extension

How it works: Grammarly serves as an independent editor for your content. It checks your writing for mistakes to ensure that the final product is as professional as possible. Once installed, it checks everything you write on your browser, including emails, blog posts, cloud documents and social media posts. It provides corrections and suggestions for grammar, spelling, punctuation, word usage and other writing choices.
The Premium version checks for plagiarism and advanced vocabulary use.

Cost: The regular version is free; premium plans start at $11.66 per month.

4. Canva

What it is: design + photo editing software

How it works: Note that good design makes your online content more attractive to readers and more searchable for platforms like Pinterest. Canva is an online design application that can be used to create e-book covers, blog graphics, logos, document templates, letterhead, social media posts and more. You can choose from a variety of pre-made designs, customize a template or create your own. It includes a variety of graphics and icons, but you can also upload your own and edit photos within the program.
Cost: Free. Some graphics, templates and features require a payment to use.

5. Google Analytics

What it is: web analytics software

How it works: Google Analytics tracks your web traffic, enabling you to see where your customers are coming from, how long they stay, what they look at and more. This information can guide your content marketing efforts by showing you what content attracts visitors, how well your website is optimized for search and how to create an effective funnel to guide customers through your website.
Cost: Free

6. Buffer

What it is: social media management tool

How it works: Buffer gives you the chance to schedule social media posts in advance so you don't have to spend time every day on every social media account. You can link multiple accounts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.
Once posts are scheduled, Buffer posts them automatically at the dates and times you have chosen. It also includes analytics so you can see how effective your schedule is or tweak it as necessary for better engagement.
Cost: Free for up to three social media accounts; paid plans start at $15 per month.
7. Editorial Calendar
What it is: WordPress calendar plug-in
How it works: For content marketing to be effective, it needs to be organized and consistent. Editorial Calendar is a WordPress plug-in that creates a drag-and-drop calendar interface where you can schedule blog posts or rearrange them. You can also use it to quick-edit content and manage posts from multiple authors. It doesn't have any additional features, making it easy to set up and use.
Cost: Free
8. CoSchedule
What it is: WordPress calendar plug-in + social media scheduler
How it works: CoSchedule combines a blog calendar and social media scheduler, allowing you to both plan and promote your blog content from one location. Once posts are written, the plug-in lets you assign them to various days, then drag and drop them to reschedule.
You can also link your social media accounts and plan social posts to promote each blog post. These can be moved when blog posts are rearranged. CoSchedule includes templates and analytics for social media posts.
Cost: Plans start at $20 per month with a two-week free trial.

9. Leadpages

What it is: lead generation software

How it works: Once your content marketing leads visitors to your website, you want to be able to get in touch with them again. This means you need to capture their email address. Leadpages allows you to create custom landing pages, pop-up boxes, registration pages and other spots where visitors can share their email address in exchange for whatever incentive you are offering.
Leadpages automatically sends new subscribers the incentive they signed up for. It also syncs with your email service provider so subscribers are added to your email list.
Cost: Plans start at $25 per month.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Probably if no one buys the BlackBerry Key2, TCL will stop making QWERTY keyboard phones

First... if it happens you had been in a coma for the past 10 years and the first thing you did after waking up this morning was check out BlackBerry Mobile’s homepage, you’d probably think you merely had a long nap. The brand formerly known as Research in Motion was sold a couple years ago to little-known TCL Communications, but the company latest handset, the BlackBerry Key2, is clinging to the past with a QWERTY keyboard. Now, I assume there’s a market somewhere for smartphones with built-in keyboards. Ever since the launch of the iPhone, an increasingly small subset of users have decried the loss of physical keys as somehow less convenient than small static keys. The extra screen space, versatility, and innovation that software-based keyboards have brought to our phones is apparently lost on this crowd, and they’d rather keep their thumbs in shape than enjoy the modern conveniences of large displays and one-handed mode. needs to stop. While the BlackBerry Key2 isn’t without some good ideas, it’s a dinosaur among today’s 18:9 all-glass OLED handsets (and not the cool dinosaur in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). Today’s launch will garner attention and headlines based solely on the BlackBerry name, but ultimately it will fade into the background as a niche phone maker’s niche phone. Instead of innovating, TCL is clinging to the notion that QWERTY keyboards have a place in our world, and it’s not going to stop until everybody stops buying them.

Bland specs, bland design

Here...the BlackBerry Key2 might not look like a traditional Android phone on the outside—its gigantic keyboard means the display is only 4.5 inches—but under the keyboard it’s not all that different than other middle-of-the-road Android handsets:

Dimensions: 151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5mm
Display: 4.5-inch, 3:2 1630 x 1080 IPS LCD
Processor: Snapdragon 660
Storage: 64GB/128GB
Battery: 3,500mAh
Camera: Dual 12MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.6
OS: Android 8.1
That’s an across-the-board improvement over the KeyOne. Not only is the Key2 Blackberry’s first dual-camera phone, it’s also thinner and faster than the Key1, with double the storage and RAM. And if you want the modern trappings of Android proper, it also offers support for Google Assistant and Google Lens.
However, for the 95 percent of the world that wouldn’t be caught dead using a KeyOne, the Key2 isn’t going to make an impact. The screen size or shape hasn’t changed, and the fingerprint sensor is still awkwardly built into the space bar (though TCL says it has improved its tactile response). And while there are new visual elements—like the front-facing speaker grill turning into a traditional receiver and the silver color extending below the keyboard—it keeps much of the KeyOne’s design cues.

And that’s part of the problem. When 25 percent of this phone is a keyboard, there’s not a lot you can do to make it functionally different. Where other phone companies are experimenting with curves and notches, the BlackBerry Key2 looks like it belongs in a museum, not in a store with a $650 price tag (which, incidentally, is $100 high than the KeyOne for some reason). If TCL wants to keep the trademark BlackBerry hardware keys, it could try to innovate with a row or two below the screen or extra buttons on the side, but the giant keyboard isn’t doing the KeyTwo any favors.

The Key to success

In an age where privacy is becoming more important than ever, BlackBerry should be relevant. Like always, the Key2 comes loaded with BlackBerry’s DTEK app that constantly monitors the OS and apps for potential risks and alerts you to danger. For example, if an app is turning your microphone on or accessing your location without your permission, it will alert you via a notification.

It also features the password-protected Locker app for storing sensitive documents and photos, and comes preloaded with Firefox Focus, the new anti-tracking Mozilla browser. These are all important features that are only just starting to be taken seriously on Android, but while BlackBerry should be leading the discussion, it’s a bit player in a crowded market.

But it doesn’t have to be. Back when it still made phones, BlackBerry was at the forefront of the privacy discussion at one time, and with a full suite of Android apps—including its Hub service and Privacy Shade app that offers a taste of the BlackBerry experience on other phones—it could be the Signal or WhatApp of launchers. For 99 cents a months (or free, if you’re willing to deal with adds), BlackBerry will let you lock down your data better than you can on Google Drive and protect your screen from prying eyes better than FaceID, and if BlackBerry focused its efforts here, it could claw out of the hole it’s in.

Privacy is BlackBerry’s game, and this is where BlackBerry should be exerting its efforts, not in QWERTY keyboards. If BlackBerry teamed with LG, Huawei, or Samsung to make a regular Android phone powered by BlackBerry, people would respond. The BlackBerry name still has cachet, but as long as it’s associated with tiny QWERTY keyboards, it’s going to remain stuck in the past.

The company may have started as Research in Motion, but now it’s just Research Standing Still. And a big part of the problem is its stubborn resistance to ditch the keyboard once and for all.

This story, was originally published by PCWorld.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

How You Can Keep Employees Engaged Throughout the Summer

True or false – you, too, are guilty of watching the clock or browsing the internet for personal content when you have a scheduled vacation approaching.
A study found that workplace productivity drops 20 percent during the summer months. With summer quickly approaching, Brad Sugars, founder and CEO of ActionCOACH, a global business coaching franchise, offers his advice and best practices for keeping employees engaged throughout the summer (and beyond).
Change your PTO system:A large number of companies require that employees give two to three weeks advance notice for paid time off. Sugars suggests reducing the time required to apply for paid time off.

"If you allow employees to give three days' notice, they will be less likely to look at the clock and think about their vacation," he says. "Change your PTO system for the summer to allow employees to give notice last minute."

Also as part of changing up your PTO system, Sugars suggests changing any policies that say employees must take several days off at a time to policies that allow employees to take three of four days off at a time. Furthermore, encourage half days.

If an employee wants time off to go to the beach or spend time with family, they may be satisfied with taking more half days off than full days. With half days, employees are still in the office getting work done and are available as needed but also get to do what they want to do outside the office.

2.Offer summer hours or flex-time opportunities:There are so many jobs that can be done anytime from anywhere. Consider offering summer hours or flex-time opportunities to employees in applicable positions. For example, instead of requiring employees to work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., let them come in as early as they would like and leave early. You may find that some employees are extra productive with flex time if summer traffic or distractions from fellow employees are causes for their lack of productivity.

Another alternative is to allow employees to work extra hours on certain days, then leave early on others, such as working an extra hour each day Monday through Thursday, then leaving four hours early on Friday.

3.Reward employees with productivity incentives:During summertime, bring the fun to work. By offering productivity incentives throughout the summer, such as team breakfasts or prizes, it allows employees to have fun while working.

On this note, sugars has found that when the incentive is something where the whole team wins or improves, teams will pull together. Free food goes a long way. You could also incentivize with PTO. One such incentive might be that if the team hits their goal, they get Friday afternoon off.

He has also learned that with individual incentives, physical prizes work better than money.

"If employees are incentivized with cash, they are just going to use to use the money to pay off a bill or build their savings. Incentives in the form of something that most people are not likely to buy for themselves work wonders. If they get the prize, they will take it, because it’s the only option."

Sugars' ideas include:

A vacation. A lot of people want to take off work in the summer to go on family vacations. Offer a vacation as an incentive. It does not have to be super expensive – perhaps a weekend away to a popular local resort.
A gift certificate to a nice restaurant. Again, this is something employees can use with family.
A training course – something for self-improvement.

4.Show your employees extra appreciation:Now, if it happpens that you're busy worrying about making your quotas, paying your mortgage and your own family, but in between everything, demonstrate your appreciation to employees.

"Employees don't need any extravagant gestures … they just want to know that their employers see the positive impact they have on their organization," Sugars says. "Showing your employees appreciation can be as simple as sending a text message with a few words about a recent job well done."

5.Make time to show appreciation: In my own case, I have a reminder that goes off every day at 2 p.m. that says, 'Acknowledge two employees today.' I send them a text message or an email showing my appreciation. It costs a lot more money to lose an employee than a customer. Paying attention to what your employees do and giving them their well-deserved acknowledgments is one key to retention. After all, employees don't leave jobs, they leave managers.