The Final Year

For anyone that still believes in hope, democracy, and a fundamental goodness in people, The Final Year is an ode to those who’ve been displaced from a position to effect positive change by the current discourse of hate, ego, and violence.

It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring to see the three focal subjects of the documentary at work during their final acts of governing, hastening to leave the world in a better place than they found it. All of it is against the backdrop of a looming Trump presidency that no one involved thought was possible.

John Kerry, the former Secretary of State and a vocal Vietnam War veteran-turned-critic, displays his belief that progress can only be achieved through effort and a willingness to try in spite of potentially insurmountable odds. In this instance it’s an effort to bring about a ceasefire between Russian and Syrian forces and anti-regime rebels in Aleppo, Syria. The alternative, to do nothing, is not an option.

Samantha Power’s story is arguably the American story—an immigrant as a child who became the US Ambassador to the UN. A standout scene involves her recounting her story to a group of new immigrants who have gained citizenship. A striking image is of books on diplomacy topped with her children’s toys. The power of a mother explaining Boko Haram to her children.

Ben Rhodes is portrayed as the staffer extension of Obama. Both a friend and advisor but also a player in his own right. He took a lead role in the restoring of diplomatic relations and lifting of embargoes between the US and Cuba.

The documentary leaves you feeling a tangible sense of what is one of Obama’s oft quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

We see it stitched in the rug that blankets the floor of the Oval Office. It’s a line that leaves you with hope that its current occupant is a passing phase in the course of history, a history that, we are reminded, is far greater than any one person or event and is a history shaped by many choosing to do what is right.

Apple, Spotify, and Podcast Discovery

      Hunting for podcasts - by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

  Hunting for podcasts - by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

Do a quick Google search for “podcast discovery” and you’ll come across lists of show recommendations, newsletters to subscribe to, and even podcasts about podcasts.

All are valiant attempts at solving one of the biggest problems for podcast listeners — discovery — which so far no one has been able to crack at scale. Podcasts-about-podcasts are the closest solution because they’re already where you‘re listening. In the process of hearing about a new show that piques your interest you’re never more than a couple of taps away from subscribing within an app you already have open, it’s just that you probably don’t want to have to listen to an entire podcast to get recommendations for new shows.

Human curation, as has been proven time and time again, doesn’t scale well and so in the near future I think there will be more elegant solutions rolled out at the directory level for podcast discovery and recommendation.

Apple is, without a doubt, best positioned to fill this void seeing as they‘re responsible for an estimated market share of somewhere between 60–70% and popular apps like Overcast draw from its directory too.

That means that Apple has a wealth of aggregated — and anonymised — listener data from which to draw on. Late last year Apple began to roll out listener analytics for podcasters which is great for creators and is the first time that Apple has made any moves in the podcast market beyond being more than just a directory. There’s also likely a data set that covers listener behaviour of multiple shows which could be conceivably translated into curated recommendations at both the show and episode level, and offered as a ‘For You’ section within Apple’s native Podcasts app, similar to what’s available in Apple Music.

 For You tab in Apple Music – now imagine a New Podcast Mix + Friends Are Listening To for podcasts

For You tab in Apple Music – now imagine a New Podcast Mix + Friends Are Listening To for podcasts

Spotify would also be well positioned to undertake this task. Their personalised playlists are a favourite amongst users of the music streaming service, and with their moves into providing podcasts — albeit at a glacial though arguably deliberate pace — it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine personalised podcast curation taking a more prominent place within this app.

This would certainly help retain listeners and be a nice bump to their average-user-listening-time numbers, especially since the company is going public and questions of the sustainability of their business model threatening to overshadow the move. There’s already evidence that Spotify plans to pursue podcasts as part of its long term strategy with the announcement of a new podcast format with “visual elements” called ‘Spotlight’ as well as the commission of exclusive original shows too.

On top of both of these there’s also the opportunity to tie in recommendations from social media as well. Overcast has a nice integration with Twitter to show what your friends have actively recommended by way of hitting a ⭐️ during an episode.

 Recommendations from Twitter in Overcast - tucked away under the Add Podcast page

Recommendations from Twitter in Overcast - tucked away under the Add Podcast page

Spotify would also have a strong case for a “What Your Friends Are Listening To” section on account of its ties with Facebook and already providing music recommendations this way too.

Spotify still labels itself as Spotify Music on the App Store so there’s probably some way to go before it feels it’s laid enough groundwork to become a competitor to Apple’s directory and market share.

 Spotify “Music” 

Spotify “Music” 

For now though I’ll continue to subscribe to newsletter to get my recommendation.

Amazon Key makes complete sense for Amazon

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On first impressions the Amazon Key system has the potential to be the second creepiest product that the company has released in recent times—the Amazon Look takes first prize in that category.

If you’ve seen the marketing video which coupled the announcement then you probably had a thought something along the lines of “why would you let a complete stranger in your house when you’re not there?”

Sure you have to grant access to your home remotely and you can watch the courier come in via the camera that’s part of the system, but this might not be enough of a deterrent for an unscrupulous character. Hey, at least you’d be a witness to your own burglary.

But the more I think about it, the more it seems like the Key system is actually a savvy move by Amazon and one that makes complete sense.

Think of how many times you’ve not been in to sign for a delivery. How many undeliverable packages do you think one driver has to return with each day?

Multiply that by all the drivers in one city, or the whole country and you come to appreciate that it’s not only incredibly inefficient to have to repeatedly attempting a delivery but it’s a real sticking point for Amazon in its goal of being the best end-to-end shopping marketplace.

It’s literally the last few feet of that shopping experience where the Key comes in. With it Amazon would essentially be the only delivery company with direct access to your home and, in an industry where companies can only really offer different versions of the same thing, this would give it an entirely unique advantage over competitors.

When you think of it like this you realise that by having the Key system installed it not only greatly improves the efficiency of its Prime delivery service but it can also, ahem, open the door to Amazon’s other services being integrated, and not to mention the potential marketplace of service providers like house cleaners or pet sitters that it can bring into the fold too.

Imagine getting your Whole Foods order delivered and unpacked while you’re at work so you can come home to a fully stocked fridge of your favourite organic produce.

Better yet, “Alexa, reorder my Whole Foods shopping list.” The next day —or even the same day—it’s there and that’s all you had to do.

Or you could just get a last minute birthday present and your flat cleaned of course.

Amazon’s products have been hit-and-miss. Remember the Fire phone? If not, well, exactly. But look at how the Echo and its offshoots are arguably the dominant home controlled speakers after just two years on the market in America, or less than one in some parts of the world, in spite of the privacy concern that it’s always listening.

With the Key its success will undoubtedly come down to a similar trade off for consumers deciding if the erosion of privacy of having an always-on camera, coupled and remote front door lock is worth it for guaranteed package delivery.

I suspect there’ll be plenty of Prime members fine with it and I’m sure Amazon will be too.