Alexa Is The New AOL

Jim just iMessaged asking whether his mother-in-law should get an Echo or a Dot. You know a revolution is brewing when a septuagenarian jumps on the technology bandwagon. It reminds me of 1995, the heyday of AOL.

Now in that year most people did not own computers. Ironically, many said they were waiting for a device you could talk to. But then AOL exploded.

Not that it hadn’t been hiding in plain sight, the online enterprise had launched years before. It wasn’t even first to market, initial traction was gained by CompuServe, Prodigy and GEnie. But none were as easy to use, and ease of use begets buzz. Interestingly, Prodigy was backed by Sears and GEnie by GE, the behemoths were in the know, kind of like Xerox, with PARC. But they gave up too soon, they didn’t adjust on the fly, and they were left in the dust. Proving it’s not always first mover advantage, but continued improvement. AOL was Facebook to its competitors’ MySpace. Hell, even many who tried the ultimate also-rans gave up, there’s no greater frustration than a computer that does not do what you want it to, even if it’s human error. That’s what made the Mac so successful, what ultimately caused Apple to become the most valuable company on the planet, not only ease of use, but the Genius Bar, where those who were inept or time-challenged could make an appointment and be walked through something that most geeks could figure out by themselves. And only geeks were on the other online services.

But AOL was a revelation. It was easy to use. And so exciting. Within twelve months seemingly all of America did sign on, forget that the service did not access the World Wide Web at first, to suddenly be able to hook up with the rest of humanity, both intellectually and socially, was an incredible thrill. You know how you wait for a text or an email on your mobile device? When you logged on to AOL and heard that voice saying “You’ve got mail!” you felt like the most popular person in the world, the dopamine hit was staggering.

That’s where the Echo is now.

Talk about ease of use, you just talk to it. But when it talks back, you get that same tingly feeling you did when you heard “You’ve got mail!” And just like in the early days of AOL, most of what you’re doing with the Echo is unnecessary and irrelevant, but it’s so much damn fun. To the point where you can’t stop talking about it, you’re a member of the club, you want to demonstrate the device’s wares to everybody you encounter.

And at first AOL was like Google search, it spread by word of mouth, not advertising. Which may have you scratching your head when you think of all those giveaway discs you ultimately kept getting in the mail, but despite being available to all, AOL was a secret club, that anybody could join, and you did. First because of the buzz, then because you didn’t want to be left out. You might have heard of the Echo, but you didn’t need one until the buzz reached you, and to this point it’s being sold on word of mouth.

Now once you decided you wanted to play on AOL, you needed a computer. Or if you already had one, a modem. And every couple of months both were improved. Talk about a technology boom, talk about the eradication of the national deficit, funny how technological breakthroughs can benefit the economy. The rich do get richer, because when you’re selling something to everyone with little labor you garner great wealth, but our nation as a whole benefited. And there have been technological breakthroughs since…

But now you don’t need a new phone.

A new computer only once a decade for many people.

But the Echo is a gateway to a whole new world of acquisition, one we’ve been hearing about for years which is just now coming to fruition. Kinda like digital photography, we heard it was going to kill film for a decade and it didn’t, but then, overnight, it did.

Smart home here we come!

There was Nest.

Apple’s been bloviating about the smart home for years.

But with Echo, the public finally gets it. They want their device to control their environment, not only the temperature, but the lights.

Now many forget all the AOL naysayers.  People were addicted! It was gonna end human interaction! The same way they’re uptight about the Echo and privacy. But the truth is you already gave up your privacy, wanna know how? Look at the ads following you around the web, Google and ad networks know all about you already, never mind all the info that’s hiding in plain sight. If you can’t find anybody you ever knew online within half an hour, pictures and everything, you don’t know how to surf, and others do, they can find you. So if you’re afraid of Alexa listening all the time… Amazon says it doesn’t. But that’s not convincing to you, because you’ve got culture shock, you don’t want to throw in with another new device, but everybody else does.

And Apple was the first company with mainstream voice activation, but Siri was a disaster upon launch and still isn’t very good. In this case, Apple appears to be CompuServe/ Prodigy/GEnie.

And Google has a competitive product, but Google’s track record of arriving late and obliterating first movers in new markets is just terrible. It tried to kill Facebook and didn’t come close. As for Google Home… It understands me very well, maybe even a bit better than the Echo, when it hears me, which oftentimes it does not. It seems to have a dead zone in the back, and if I’m not right up close and sometimes even if I still am, I end up yelling at the device and getting frustrated with it, makes me want to use it less, unlike the Echo, which I want to use more and more. And Amazon was brilliant in using the name Alexa, the geeks at Google don’t know how to be hip. “Hey Google”? Where’s the fun in that? And AOL taught us first and foremost it has to be fun. Also, the speaker in Google Home is too small and the device is unattractive. Sure, the Echo might be ugly beautiful, but you never want to be bland.

And unlike Apple, and very much like Microsoft, never forget, the success of AOL coincided with the launch of Windows 95, the Echo is an open system, anybody can play. You’ve got Spotify, but no Apple Music. How can that be?

Amazon is playing a long game wherein it wants to become the standard, and so far it appears to be winning.

Now what killed AOL was the World Wide Web and broadband. Proving that you can be here today and gone tomorrow in tech, and you have to reinvent the wheel every damn day. But every Friday I get an email from Amazon all about new Echo features. Some utilitarian, some just fun, so…

You’re gonna own an Echo, it’s just a matter of when.

Voice activation/response is the latest technological breakthrough. While we were waiting for flying cars, when it looked like there were no breakthroughs on the horizon, it snuck up on us, kinda like AOL back in ’95.

This is only the beginning. In an on demand world, we can now all have a personal concierge, at our beck and call. One we can use and not feel guilty about. One, in the tradition of modern tech, which is not expensive to buy.

This is a juggernaut.

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