I had no idea that independent developers created things called “Alexa Skills”. I had just assumed Amazon wrote all of these things. After hearing Gary Vaynerchuck talk about it quite often recently, I looked into what it would take to make my own Alexa Skill. What were the barriers to entry.
There’s a very easy to way to make an Alexa skill that’s just information. Those are called “Flash Briefings.” The gym I own has something called the “Workout of the Day” or “WOD.” I thought maybe it would be interested instead of looking up the WOD, they could ask Alexa.
Flash Briefings are the easiest Alexa Skill to make. You can connect to a Sound Cloud, where you can make it play audio that’s not Alexa’s voice, or you can make it read a feed. I chose to make it read a feed from my batcitycrossfit page. I set it up every Sunday by scheduling a new post for every day of the week at about 8:30 pm at night. The website feed only distributes the latest post so Alexa only reads the most up to date post.
This is what the feed from my website batcitycrossfit.com/feed looks like. Alexa just reads what’s listed between the description tags.
The Alexa skill for flash briefings is as easy as pointing it to the feed.
So that’s the super easy to get into Alexa.
If you want a real interactive Alexa skill, you have to go a little deeper.
What’s annoying was that I found some really old tutorials where I had to really get the node.js environment on my computer which was a lot harder than I thought it would be as it pertains to how you use to create Alexa skills. Now Alexa has a much easier interface.
What’s cool about these relatively new platforms is that they really try to help you succeed. By that I mean there are a lot of tutorials and a lot of stuff is free until you do something interesting enough to scale.
Amazon suggests you use their serverless service called Lambda. What’s “funny” to me is that to get to Lambda you have to log onto AWS.amazon.com and to configure your Alexa skill you go to developer.amazon.com.
As you might know, a lot of Amazon’s aws services are free for the first year. Some will continue to be free as long as you use the smallest of settings and it doesn’t get a lot of hits. Lambda is one of those free things that is open to scale.
Here’s where I’m working on a movie quiz. Kind of basic I know but I’m just getting started. You can either just ask when a movie was released or ask Alexa to play a quiz game that consists of 10 questions. To get started you to create a Lambda function. There is an Alexa skills template that gets you started.
You have to link this function back to the Alexa skill on developer.amazon.com.
Once you have that working you can test it on your personal Alexa at home as long as you link the Alexa App on your phone to your Amazon developer account.
I’m hoping to get this finished in about a week. I know it won’t get any traction out of the gate but I’m wanting to come up with a lot more features as I get rolling.