“Ok Google, ask Island Echo for the news”

In January, we launched an ‘Action’ on the Google Assistant platform for the Island Echo – a 24/7 breaking news website serving the Isle of Wight. This is in addition to our Amazon Alexa skill we created for the publisher too. The ‘action’ – Google’s term for applications that run inside it’s Assistant platform can be seen in the Explore Directory. Our service to the news publisher, now enables them to distribute news articles to those who are interested without needing to load a web browser and is available on many more smart devices.

 

Smart assistants are an upcoming channel for publishers to interactively, and socially, engage with their audience that seems natural and fluid.

 

The Google Assistant

The Google Assistant is Google’s answer to the upcoming trend of smart assistants in this new field of technology. It’s main rival, Amazon Alexa, does currently have a larger market share, in the US and here in the UK, but reviewers have said as Google knows more about you (from your Google Account), it’s assistant can provide more accurate responses, personalized to you.

Voice and Screen

Google Assistant allows users of Android smartphones and TVs (Android 6.0+), Google Home products – including the Max and Mini, Google Chromebooks and iOS devices with the Google Assistant app installed the capability of accessing the same information. However, developers like us can tailor the experience for different ‘surfaces’, depending if they’ve got a screen or play audio etc. and that’s what we did for the Island Echo. When asking for the news, users of Google Home products without a screen, hear a transcript of the article summaries – just like the Alexa skill we created.

Users of devices with screens, such as smartphones, are greeted by article ‘cards’ in a ‘carousel’ that entices them to scroll. Tapping on an article card reveals the full article excerpt. The benefit of having visual cards, is that a link to the article webpage can be placed at the bottom of the card that opens in the Assistant’s own web-viewer. This means a higher page view rate for articles. Suggestion chips appear below article cards to help the user decide what to do next.

Platform Parity

Traditionally there has always been a trade-off between the cost of developing for two platforms at the same time (Android Vs. iOS) and upsetting half the smartphone population with an app only available on one platform. We can develop for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant at the same time and this results in an inclusive and professional experience for customers.

Island Echo is now available on the Amazon Alexa platform and the Google Assistant through our integration method. Our service, which works with the help of a bespoke WordPress plugin we created, allows easy management of news distribution to the smart platforms through an easy to use WordPress dashboard.

Discovery

Unlike the Amazon Alexa platform, Google allows users to ask natural questions, such as ‘what’s the news on the Isle of Wight?’ or, ‘what’s happening on the Isle of Wight?’, and it can recommend certain actions to users. Developers can specify what implicit discovery phrases the action can respond to, to make the action more natural.

Summary

After we created an Alexa skill for the Island Echo, we used the existing integration with the publisher’s WordPress website to create a Google Assistant action that works both on Google Home devices and on smartphones. Our service integrates these smart assistants to allow news to be distributed across a new and upcoming channel between businesses and clients.