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How did Amazon screw up the Echo Show's best feature so badly?

Update Nov. 6, 2017: In light of the fact that there's a ton of breaking news early this week — actual important stuff like mass shootings in church and huge document dumps and civil unrest and political investigations and ... — we're re-upping this post. If you don't see anything of substance on your Echo Show news feed, it's Amazon just protecting you from any actual seriousness.

It's Sunday morning. Past the breakfast hour and closing in on lunch. I've been trying to come up with ways to make myself feel better after seeing the carnage in Charlottesville, Va., and the predictable responses on Twitter and Facebook and from our political leaders. It's times like these that I don't want to think at all about tech toys. (And to be clear, this is hardly the first time. Or the second. Or the third. And I'm hardly alone in this feeling.)

But something stood out as I stood in the kitchen making breakfast. And it took me a few hours before I realized what it was.

It was the Amazon Echo Show. Alexa with a screen. I'd chuckled a little earlier in the day reading blogger-turned-investor-turned-blogger M.G. Siegler's "Quick Thoughts on Amazon's Echo Show."

What really sold me was that while I was making coffee, it was next to me displaying news headlines. ... This sounds obvious. I mean, we all walk around every single day with devices in our pockets that can access any information — including news headlines — at any time. But there's something profound about having it pushed to you in an ambient way.

I agree. And once you're bludgeoned with information the way I was at a newspaper starting from 19 years old — it was my job to try to tame the waterfall — it's a hard habit to give up. Echo Show is perfect for this. Or, rather, it can be. Eventually.

If it's not timely, and it's not important, then why is it being pushed in front of my eyes?

I can say this with certainty: The afterglow of Echo Show headlines will wear off pretty quickly. Maybe it'll be when you wonder why you're seeing a headline that's two hours old (an eternity in online news time). Or maybe it's when you've seen 13 headlines in a row that you just don't care about. The image at the top of this post — promoting a "Game of Thrones" Episode 5 preview, is showing the day after the episode aired. What good is that?

Or maybe it's the morning after a domestic terrorist event when you're walking through the kitchen and don't see a single headline about it on the Echo Show.

That's right. Not a word about Charlottesville and the racist Nazis who directly contributed to the death of a woman. (And indirectly to the deaths of two law enforcement officers whose helicopter crashed.)

Not a single headline that I saw in the morning. Or in the 10 minutes I left a camera trained at the Echo Show.

https://twitter.com/mdrndad/status/896902262387335170

As I'm writing most of this piece about 9 hours later, I still don't see any headlines about Charlottesville. ... Fast-forward to Monday morning. ... Still nothing. No headlines. No videos. No still images.

Echo Show isn't exactly a font of information just yet. At least nothing timely. Or of any real import.

Does Amazon worry about our showing us anything remotely provocative? Or is it just bad at this?

The question now is why. I don't think Amazon's doing anything nefarious here. And I don't even think it's about Charlottesville or the current political landscape. I think it's probably more a matter of not wanting to surface anything too provocative or potentially upsetting. And there's something to be said for that.

In fact, that's pretty much what Amazon said for that when I asked. Here's a quote from a company representative:

For trending topics on Echo Show, we primarily surface lifestyle, entertainment, and sports news since it's a communal device that the whole family sees and uses. If customers want to hear business or political news, we offer the daily Flash Briefing which offers a variety of news outlets to choose from. As with everything we do, the Echo Show trending topics experience will continue to improve and evolve over time based on customer feedback.

Fair enough, though I'd still argue the world ain't always a pretty place. It's not really protecting anyone here.

The good news is that this is an easy problem to fix. In lieu of actually improving the headlines feature itself, Amazon could let the user tailor the options. More news, less fluff. More from one source over another. It's limitless, really.

The problem right now is that the Echo Show headlines are extremely limited. And dated. And that just makes Echo Show — and Amazon — look silly and out of touch.

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26 Comments
  • typical for amazon roll something out and its all F'ed up, I am so sick of amazon and how they treat their sellers which I am one of them
    Amazon will go down in flames at some point but taking the country down in the mean time and putting people and business of of work and business to close and lay people off,. His statement years ago his goal is to put every business out of business. How great is that!!!!!!!11
  • Amazon makes many useful, quality items. They've come out with a few duds but what tech company hasn't? To say it's typical of Amazon to roll out bad products is not accurate. It appears you have other, more personal problems with Amazon. Why don't you save those comments for articles that actually relate to your beef with Amazon?
  • Exactly. When google does this same device in 25 years or so it won't be perfect or match the feature set, but what it does do google will nail and do perfectly. Except for shopping lists.
  • The shopping lists. Lol 😆
  • Hey if you're (article writer) gonna complain about the tragedy in the news not showing up on their Echo, at least get the story correct. The tragedy happening in Charlottesville, VIRGINIA, not N.C. p.s. Nice political spin : It's Sunday morning. Past the breakfast hour and closing in on lunch. I've been trying to come up with ways to make myself feel better after seeing the carnage in Charlottesville, N.C., and the predictable responses on Twitter and Facebook and from our political leaders. It's times like these that I don't want to think at all about tech toys.
  • For future reference, this site has an edit feature for comments, so you don't have to post the same garbage dump of a comment twice just because you couldn't be bothered to proofread a comment about an editorial mistake.
  • Tried to edit and the fussy software spit out the double post when I tried to fix initial post. Thanks for the dooshy comment.
  • *douchey. Being as you're so fond of corrections lol.
  • Hello, commenter! What a dumb mistake, screwing up Charlotte, N.C., for Charlottesville, Va. Thanks for pointing it out. Happy to fix it. Fortunately, the rest of the story is correct. Forest for the trees and all ...
  • I knew what you meant, keep up the good work.
  • @OhAlfie - Agreed, especially about the opportunistic spin, as always.
  • Exactly what do you mean by opportunistic spin? I'm confused.
  • I hear ya these people must be put down because they will just keep up their carnage! Animals are what they are, pray for the lady dead and the injured!
  • While I'm morally against what those protesters in Charlottesville were for, I'd hardly say I believe that should be put down. Using violence to stop violence isn't going to get us anywhere. Nor does it really make one better than the other.
  • "you're seeing a headline that's two hours old (an eternity in online news time)" It may be an eternity but if it's the morning it's likely you were sleeping two hours ago and you missed those headlines so it's not actually that bad in that case
  • Yeah. It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If it's only showing the most up to date headlines, then it's not going to show me important things happened when I was away from the Echo for a while. If it's showing the most important headlines, then there are going to be a lot of "Yeah, I KNOW, that happened TWO HOURS AGO" moments when I'm near it for extended periods of time.
  • I agree. I feel like as a device that is sort of just in the background and not 100% interactive, i feel like importance trumps timeliness for the reasons already mentioned. Maybe if there was a refresh command or something that you can ask Alexa to perform so that way, its kind of a way to notify Alexa that, yeah, i'm caught up on events from a couple hours ago. plus, people that work in news are probably not the best baseline for how folks consume news anyway.
  • too bad it doesn't have a way to know it's been seen like a phone or tablet does from the user interacting with it. wouldn't be difficult, would it? "alexa, only show new news" or "alexa, show news up to 5 hours old" As Phil said, the options could be limitless.
  • I have an Echo Show, and while I like it for my intended purpose , which is to play music and radio stations that I like while I do something else (read, household chores, etc.) I did try the "news" headlines. Totally worthless, and I have turned them off. Most of them seemed to be ads for movie trailers, and days old entertainment news. No real news. Now, if they would just remove all of those stupid "Ask Alexa" "tips", we would be good to go!
  • I don't have an echo, so I don't know for sure, but I would imagine that they wouldn't want to show anything that kids shouldn't see. Is that a possible explanation?
  • I agree with your perspective, it's not really geared to the mostly-adults environment (the man-cave, or office etc.) I don't have an "Echo" either. Thanks "goldenstandard" for plowing up my "fallow ground", I also wondered if Amazon is targeting a different market than what most of these commenters represent. Such as people without smartphone / computers. Maybe a "flip-phone" but that's it. Some people really don't enjoy this technology stuff.
  • Meaning that some people don't find a digital photo frame as intrusive as computers / radio / TV / smart phone. With a digital photo frame that shows the important news, their life isn't wswamped by overly complicated things like malware, viruses, software updates, etc.
  • Usual Amazon... Average products/services.
  • It's also possible that Amazon doesn't want to draw any more attention to those people (given that these sorts of things - especially mass shootings and driving cars deliberately into pedestrians - are only done to get attention).
  • I can see that argument, but there's no way for that to work these days. There are way too many sources of information. Plus, my guess is that Amazon has all of that automated and I doubt they'd have some machine learning setup for that kind of deliberate action.
  • The helicopter crash occurred after it was called away from the scene to participate in the governor's motorcade, about 7 miles away. Anyone know if the governor usually has a helicopter presence on his motorcade? If so, equal blame could be argued there.