Alexa’s constraints make it a better assistant

“OK Google,” I said to my Pixel phone, “pause.”

I expected my music to stop playing. Instead, Google Assistant offered me the top search result: PAWS, an animal advocacy organization. This isn’t the only time Assistant has failed to catch my intent. More than once, I’ve said “never mind” after inadvertently invoking the Assistant with the wake phrase, only to be told that “Nevermind” was an album by Nirvana.

Don’t misunderstand me (even if my phone does). The versatility of Google Assistant has its perks. I love being able to set time or place based reminders. If I want to know how tall Angelina Jolie is (5’7″) or how long it will take me to get to my parents’ house (23 minutes), Assistant is ideal.

No, the problem with Assistant isn’t its lack of capabilities, but its lack of constraints. You can say anything to it, and it will respond. Even if the response is unrelated to what you need.

In contrast, Amazon’s Alexa has a large but limited vocabulary. My Echo may not know the phone number of the local CVS, but when I say “pause,” there’s no ambiguity—paws have no place in its syntax. If I say “Alexa… never mind,” it doesn’t mind. It just drops the conversation.

And, as it turns out, that’s what I want in a voice-activated assistant. I know what Alexa can do, and I know she’ll do it when I ask. When I need a search engine, I’ll talk to Google. But, for now, Alexa is my girl Friday.

Posted in Me

New column on Dark Reading

I have a new column/blog on Dark Reading. Or, more accurately, I’ve taken over a column called Sophos Security Insights (previously SophosLabs Insights).

The first post, “Forget Standardization. Embrace BYOD.” went up today. Here’s a sneak peak:

Despite its rocky start, Windows 8 has IT departments salivating over the idea of standardizing on a single platform. It’s a compelling vision: phones, tablets, and workstations all running a single OS and managed through a shared set of native Microsoft tools. Compelling, perhaps, but for most organizations, it ain’t gonna happen.

Read the full post over at Dark Reading or subscribe to the feed.

Sophos bound

I’m very excited to announce that, in two weeks, I will be joining the team at Sophos. The company, dual headquartered in Abingdon, UK, and Burlington, MA, creates some of the best network and endpoint security products for small and medium enterprises. Sophos was one of the first companies to join StopBadware’s partner program when it launched in 2011, and I’ve had impressively positive interactions with the people there ever since. They also have one of the most prolific and entertaining blogs in the industry.

I’ll be joining Sophos’s marketing team as a Senior Product Marketing Manager, specializing in endpoint security. I have my friend and colleague Joram Borenstein to thank for helping me realize that much of the work I’ve done at StopBadware over the past few years has been product marketing, even if I didn’t have a name for it. I’m looking forward to this foray into a new field and a new organization. I’m also glad that I’ll be able to draw on the immense amount I’ve learned about the security industry during my five and a half years at StopBadware. I’ve had the chance to work with amazing people on our staff and board, at our partner companies, and throughout the industry. I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given to lead this exciting initiative, and I look forward to remaining involved as a member of the StopBadware Board of Directors.

I’ll be spending this week wrapping things up and training my replacement at StopBadware. Next week I get to take a much needed break, and then I’ll jump into my new role at Sophos.

Moving on from StopBadware

I recently made the difficult decision to step down as executive director of StopBadware. Though I didn’t start StopBadware—credit for that goes to John Palfrey, Jonathan Zittrain, and their collaborators—it has been my adopted baby for over five years now. What once was an energetic and chaotic Berkman Center project is now an independent (though still energetic and at times chaotic) nonprofit organization working together with many of the world’s greatest Web companies. I’m proud of the contributions I’ve made to StopBadware’s success, and I’m gratified that the organization has matured to a point that I can feel comfortable passing the reins to someone else. In fact, it’s not just that I feel comfortable doing so; I actually look forward to it. After five years, I think StopBadware will benefit from some fresh ideas and a new vision of what can be accomplished by leveraging the organization’s dynamic team, supportive partners, impressive board of directors, and positive reputation.

I believe the change will do me good, as well. During my time at StopBadware, I’ve built relationships with a lot of amazing people and learned from a boatload of mistakes (and the occasional success). I’m ready to take that experience into a new environment with new types of problems to solve. A reboot for my professional soul, if you will.

Some people have asked me where, specifically, I’m headed. I’m still exploring my options, but I do have some ideas of what I’m looking for. I know I want to remain in greater Boston, though I’m open to some travel. I’d like to make the best possible use of my experience leading a team and an organization. I enjoy building external relationships, public speaking, and otherwise interacting with people. Remaining in the security field would be ideal, though another area of interest is the intersection of technology and education. And, perhaps most of all, I want to feel good about what I’m contributing to my organization and what my organization is contributing to the world. Private sector? Nonprofit? Government? I’m open; it all depends on the fit.

Meanwhile, I’m not walking out the door at StopBadware until we’ve found a new executive director. Please, if you know a strong candidate, pass along the job description. And if you’re a strong candidate, let the Board’s search committee know why by sending a cover letter and resume to execsearch@stopbadware.org.