Alexa, what is the Internet talking about right now ?

Digg on Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices

The Digg team has been excited about messaging for sometime. Earlier this year, we built Digg bot for Slack and launched Digg on Facebook Messenger. In addition to the artisan, hand-selected stories from Digg’s front page, our messaging services taps into 10 million RSS feeds and scans almost 200 million tweets daily. And Digg’s channel feeds bring automagically curated news in tech, politics, entertainment and more from around the web.

One of the popular features on our messaging platforms is “Digg Trending”, which takes all of Digg’s great content and employs proprietary algorithms and ranking schemes to surface the most popular news stories of the moment.

Now, you can get all this amazing content at your home and into your ears. Digg is available on Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices. Digg Trending will give you a short briefing composed of 5 top stories from all that we see on the Internets. Each briefing is guaranteed to keep you in the know and give you something to talk about during your lunch break.

Alexa, the voice agent in Amazon’s Echo devices, can understand a set of core commands. One such core command is to update the user on news via the ‘Flash Briefing’. This section is customizable via the Alexa app on your phone. And this is where Digg lives.

How to Turn ON Digg in your Echo

In the Alexa app on your phone, tap the left navigation panel and then open Settings. Scroll down to Account → Flash Briefing. Select “Get more Flash Briefing content” and search “Digg”. Once on the Digg trending skill page, you’ll want to “Enable Skill”. Now you’re all set to receive Digg’s trending news in flash briefings!

Just summon it by saying “Alexa, get my flash briefing, please.” (Remember to say please to everyone, it’s important.)

The Technology Powering Auditory Feeds

The Digg flash briefing is not a pre-recorded audio update. Instead, trending stories are updated in rhythm with all the content that Digg aggregates. It then utilizes Alexa’s Text-to-Speech (TTS) technology to make the relevant stories audible.

Alexa is unusually good at TTS. But not all news headlines are ideal for consumption on audio-only interfaces like the Echo, especially via TTS. Internet news is overwhelmingly produced as a visual medium. This means certain combinations of title and descriptions of news articles only provide partial information to the user, which cannot be understood completely without visual context contained in the article body.

In other words, news for TTS-audio has an unique requirement. Audio has no audit trail, i.e. unlike visual feeds where you can scroll up or linger in the article as long as you want, it is hard to interactively go back and forth in an audio feed. So audio briefings must be more focused in what is conveyed.

For example, a story titled "Serena Williams powers way to Wimbledon final. She is once again one victory from her record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title.” is okay for TTS-generated audio feeds. But a story titled “How your favorite celebrities spent the 4th of July” is not because the title text depends on the article body — which in this particular case happens to be a slide show. In some other news articles we examined, the title/description heavily depended on an extensive long read, which would be beyond Alexa’s current TTS word limit. Thus, Auditory Briefings — stories that you can follow via audio should not be substantially dependent on the article body, otherwise they could stimulate the curiosity gap without satisfying it.

Our goal was to pick digg content that is fully interpretable when consumed exclusively through audio. Based on the phrases and word patterns in the titles or descriptions of trending news stories, we trained a supervised machine learning algorithm that can filter out stories which aren’t “audio friendly”. Such stories are flagged and although they might contain exciting visual content, this overwhelming visual dependency makes them sub-optimal candidates for audio briefings.

Digg is bringing the most interesting articles from the entire Web to your earlobes. Want some politics over your pancakes? Listening for tech news while on the toilet? Just tell Alexa to ask Digg for what’s new.