Learn and Profit From Alexa Skills
Written by Lucy Black   
Thursday, 23 May 2019

Amazon has provided a free self-paced skill-building course that offers step-by-step guidance on how to build a high-quality Alexa skill from start to finish. It has also announced the expansion of In-Skill Purchasing, making Alexa a more attractive platform from the point of view of any developer wanting to make money.

Voice is certainly going to be an important interface in the future but that future has already started and Amazon's Alexa has the lion's share of the market. However it has to be admitted that getting assistance from Alexa is currently a rather hit and miss experience. If you stick to the "core" skills - news briefing, weather forecast, playing really popular music and playing quiz games, you'll probably find Alexa helpful. But go outside the standard repertoire, getting help from Alexa can be very frustrating.

As a programmer, understanding how Alexa works can improve your experience as an Alexa user and of course it is an increasingly important platform for delivering informational and entertainment service and has a big role to play in the IoT.



The course Cake Walk: Build an Engaging Alexa Skill takes you through the steps required for a simple skill that counts down the days until your birthday and delivers a birthday message on the appropriate day. It starts with an introduction to voice design concepts and then has four skill-programming modules that cater for both beginners, who can learn how to build their first skill in 5 minutes, and experienced developers who will learn how to add advanced features like memory to deliver a more personalized and conversational voice experience.

During the 90-minute course, learners will have hands-on experience using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and voice user interface (VUI) and learn about the certification process to make a skill available in the Alexa Skills Store. It opens by asking "Why build Alexa Skills" and gives the three reasons, ease of access, i.e. VUIs are natural, conversational, and user-centric; speed and efficiency; and skill monetization.

As an example of how Alexa skills can make mundane tasks more efficient, it cites the kitchen timer, which I have to admit is something used on a regular basis in my household. Its also something Alexa rarely gets wrong. In other respects far from being reliable Alexa can make mistakes - either comical or calamitous depending on the circumstances - which indicate the limitation of VUIs. 

The second section of the course is on Designing the VUI and it includes two amusing videos illustrating how things could go wrong if you don’t pay attention to the design of the VUI for your skill.




The first demonstrates "overfilling fail" where the user provides too much information at one and the next is the opposite problem, commonly encountered in the wild, where the VUI design fails to infer information from the context of the situation and is rather rigid on getting the answer for a specific question. 

As the course progresses it covers important Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) features including: 

  • Intents, utterances, and slots to build a voice user interface
  • Auto delegation to have the skill automatically prompt for missing information
  • Using ASK Software Development Kit for Node.js to handle requests sent to your skill
  • Setting persistent attributes with Amazon S3 to remember information
  • Using Alexa Settings API to look up the time zone


Returning to why build an Alexa Skill, as a developer it could well be that the main reason is Skill monetization, i.e. to earn money by selling extras to the customers who use your skills via in-skill purchases. As we reported in Alexa In-Skill Purchasing Goes Live this time last year, developers in the USA are able to sell digital goods and services to customers through voice by offering three types of in-skill products: one-time purchases or entitlements, subscriptions, and consumables. Premium content can include anything from hints in a trivia skill, expansion packs in an adventure game to a monthly subscription to premium features.This month Amazon has announced it is expanding in-skill purchasing (ISP) capabilities internationally, starting with the UK, Germany and Japan.


The announcement states:

Soon, developers from around the world will be able to build premium skill experiences with localized content that is relevant for customers across different countries, languages and currencies. Additionally, developers who monetize their skills across numerous skill stores will be able to tap into a larger customer base, generating revenue to grow their global voice business. 

In this video three developers share their, successful, experiences of in-skill purchasing:




More Information 

Cake Walk: Build an Engaging Alexa Skill

Make Money with Your Alexa Skills through In-Skill Purchasing


Related Articles

Entering The Era Of Voice Power 

Over 100 Million Alexa Devices Sold

Alexa In-Skill Purchasing Goes Live

Amazon Starting To Monetize Alexa Skills

Amazon Expands Alexa Skills Rewards Program

Alexa For Business - The Big Shake Up

Amazon Alexa Extending Its Influence

The State Of Voice As UI 


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Last Updated ( Friday, 05 July 2019 )