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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