As of Saturday, thanks to Alexa Blueprints, when my daughter asked Alexa the question she got an answer she did not expect, one that made us chuckle and made her mad: “Either one of the dogs!” said Alexa in her cheerful voice.
Alexa Blueprints are personalized skills that any Echo user can now create thanks to a very easy to use set of templates covering different topics in the areas of storytelling, home automation, learning and knowledge and of course fun and games.
Creating a skill is very straightforward and does not require any coding. You are basically creating a script, and all the work is done in the background for you. It took me five minutes to create five family questions with some funny answers for temporary amusement. As soon you run the skill it becomes available to all your Echo devices.
Making it Personal
Alexa already built a close relationship with its users through her name and personality. Cementing that relationship by creating an even more personal bond is very important as other digital assistants will try and enter our homes.
While it might seem silly, our relationship with Alexa is no different than a relationship with a human being. Knowledge, familiarity, humor all play a role in making you feel comfortable with a person so that you feel you can rely on them. Amazon wants the same when it comes to Alexa and us.
Creating their own skills leaves users with a sense of control over the information they might not be necessarily happy to share with a third party skill but are comfortable entrusting Amazon with. At the end of the day, they have already let Amazon into their life. Third party skill developers might also not be interested in creating a skill that allows for bedtime stories or math quizzes that are for the one person you have in mind.
Making it Useful
The opportunity that Alexa Blueprints offer is more than cuteness of course. You take a look at the first templates Amazon designed, and you see how it is all about making Alexa part of the family. As she is more helpful in the home and sounds more personal, our trust and reliance will grow. Interestingly, it is also about growing awareness outside the family. You have an Echo in your home, so clearly you are interested in Alexa, but what about all those people who come into your home from your guests to your dog sitter or babysitter? Alexa can prove useful to them by giving hints about your Wi-Fi password or telling them where you keep your dog leash or having an emergency number ready. These might be people who have yet to experience Alexa and instead of having you explain what she can do, they experience first-hand how Alexa can be helpful. House guests can also see the fun side of Alexa by playing games with her at a party.
With Blueprints, you can also expand your knowledge on things you actually care about. There are many trivia skills already available for Echo, but they are supposed to entertain more so than they are supposed to grow your knowledge. The Blueprints template can be used to learn or revise a topic. I set up a set of flashcards to review my knowledge of American Government in preparation for my US Citizen test. It took a bit longer than for the family questions, and it also showed that complexity in what you want to do could escalate pretty quickly and, at least for now, these templates are not meant to deal with complicated questions.
We are planning to create revision tests for our kid for any upcoming tests. If we sit her down to ask questions it’s homework, if Alexa does it, it’s fun. Anything that will get our daughter to learn is welcome in our home, and of course, the fact that she can be entertained and learn without staring at a screen is a plus. I also see Blueprints as a hook for kids to get interested in creating content themselves. Clearly geared at kids who can read and type there is potential in letting them create their own sci-fi story or their own flashcards. Using the storytelling template, a child can let her/his creativity loose while learning about the actual structure of a story.
I enjoyed my initial experience with Blueprints, but I was left wanting more. Isn’t that human nature after all! I want more templates that I am sure will come, but mostly I want more intelligence. After I set up my revision test, I quickly found that there was no room for error in my answers. Alexa would not apply any intelligence in processing my answers and understand that what I said was close enough to the answer to make it right. This happens with third-party trivia skills I used, but it is more obvious here because I am the one who entered the answer.
On the family front, while Alexa can answer a question like “Who is the most annoying kid?” with “Grace has her moments!” She cannot say “You have your moments!” when it is my daughter asking that question. So all in all, while she is more part of the family you are still very much aware, she is not human.
While I see a big potential for Alexa Blueprints, the big question is of course, how many people will bother creating their own skills? Discovery, I think is the biggest hurdle here rather than usability. When you get into your Alexa app now, under skills, you can see skills you created so you might be curious to see what that is but if you click now, you get a high-level ad that does not really do justice to the experience. I hope to see Amazon start using some of the personalized skills in its ads to encourage more usage. I am convinced the return for both the user and Amazon will be worth the investment.