Get all kinds of new facts with Cu­rios­ity’s Alexa app

Red Eye Chicago - - The Chatter - By Amina Elahi

For those mo­ments when din­ner con­ver­sa­tion stalls, Ama­zon’s voice as­sis­tant Alexa can now throw out quirky facts on de­mand through an app by Cu­rios­ity, a Chicago-based me­dia com­pany.

Cu­rios­ity in­tro­duced the free app—known as a “skill” on the Alexa plat­form—in De­cem­ber. It’s one of the first Chicago com­pa­nies with an Alexa app.

Other Alexa skills rel­e­vant to Chicagoans in­clude a Chicago Food Truck Finder, which can tell users which food trucks are at Willis Tower or other lo­ca­tions, and Chicago Bikes, which can share in­for­ma­tion about Divvy bike sta­tions.

To use Cu­rios­ity, an Ama­zon Echo user can say “Alexa, open Cu­rios­ity” to launch the app. Alexa then asks the user to select from two top­ics.

“Are you cu­ri­ous about tra­di­tions or pi­o­neer­ing women?” she might ask. If the user doesn’t like these op­tions, she’ll of­fer a cou­ple more.

Alexa is the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence as­sis­tant that pow­ers Ama­zon’s Echo de­vice, which users in­ter­act with through voice com­mands. The Alexa mar­ket­place grew from 1,000 to more than 7,000 voice apps in the past seven months, re­ports said. And Alexa in­te­gra­tions don’t stop with Ama­zon de­vices.

Cu­rios­ity’s app is part of a push to of­fer new kinds of con­tent to knowl­edge-seek­ers and move away from a video-cen­tric model.

CEO Gabe Ve­hovsky, who led the com­pany through a spinoff from Discovery Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in late 2014, said he wants to make leisure learn­ing eas­ier and more ac­ces­si­ble.

“[We want to make] ac­cess­ing con­tin­ual life­long learn­ing as easy, as fun as to get sports up­dates,” he said.

The com­pany’s con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem lets it quickly push its orig­i­nal and branded part­ner con­tent to the Cu­rios­ity.com web­site and all its other chan­nels, in­clud­ing so­cial me­dia, the Alexa app and a Google Chrome plugin that dis­plays an in­ter­est­ing fact in ev­ery new tab a user opens. Ve­hovsky said about 5 mil­lion peo­ple visit Cu­rios­ity’s web and mo­bile plat­forms each month.

Cu­rios­ity lets users dive into top­ics in three to five min­utes, and takes on sub­jects, such as ver­ti­cal farm­ing, that might be hard for a per­son to learn about by search­ing on YouTube, for ex­am­ple, Ve­hovsky said.

So far, a lit­tle more than 10,000 users have down­loaded the Cu­rios­ity skill for Alexa, Ve­hovsky said. It has a 3.5-star rat­ing on Ama­zon.

Un­like most of the places Cu­rios­ity con­tent is avail­able, in­ter­ac­tions with the Alexa skill are voice-based. One new chal­lenge is that us­ing Alexa is a screen-free ex­pe­ri­ence, which means users don’t search the same way they would on a de­vice, head of prod­uct Andy O’Dower said.

In the early days, users could ask Alexa to give them a “Cu­rios­ity topic of the day,” but O’Dower said that was less fun than pick­ing a topic.

“It’s a nice blend of serendip­ity, be­cause you’re get­ting two choices you didn’t ask for but then you also have con­trol to then go down the rab­bit hole that you want to go down,” he said. Story courtesy of Chicago Tri­bune’s Blue Sky In­no­va­tion, fea­tur­ing news, anal­y­sis and events re­lated to in­no­va­tion, en­trepreneur­ship and the next Big Idea.

Ama­zon Echo

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