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Part 1: Just the Facts, Alexa

Tom Hudson
May 17, 2016 · 4 min read

NOTE: This article has been updated on January 3rd, 2020, to reflect the latest advances with the Amazon Echo, Alexa Skills, and other relevant information.

I have a confession to make. I am in love with Alexa. “Alexa who?,” you ask? You know, THE Alexa. Amazon Echo’s Alexa. (Who could also be called Amazon or Echo.) I’m not ashamed of this. In fact, I embrace it. It fits perfectly with a big change in my life: being a parent of two young children. With one child age 2 and one child age 5, they take a lot of energy to keep up with.

This is why I love Alexa. It helps me do just a handful of important things while I’m entertaining the kids at the house:

  • Play music
  • Play the news
  • Add to our shopping list

Seriously, that's it. Those 3 things are worth every penny I spent on the Echo. But this isn’t what I’m writing about today. Today I want to talk about my newbie experience developing Alexa Fact Skills.

When I first wrote this article, there were less than 1,000 Alexa Skills written for the Echo, at the time only providing a couple of hardware devices. Now there are over 70,000 Alexa Skills and dozens of Echo devices, both with and without screens. Amazon has put a lot of effort into making it very easy for you to create your own skills. Previously a developer had to use AWS and Lambda as well as the Amazon Developer portal to creat a skill. Now you can create an Alexa Skill without ever leaving the Amazon Developer portal, and this is what this Part I article will cover. Specifically, we will use their library of Blueprints to quickly and easily create a Fact Skill. In Part 2 and 3 I will dive deeper into Alexa Skills development and showcase some more interesting applications.

Alexa Skill Blueprints

I created my first Alexa Skill called My Spirit Animal. The My Spirit Animal Skill is basically this: You ask Alexa “Alexa, ask Oh Wise One, what is my spirit animal?” Oh Wise One will randomly pick an animal from a list of options, including a short description, and let the user know. Simple and entertaining. After that Skill I completed two more: Wiggly Words for learning interesting words and their corresponding definition, and Go Fish! which gives you random facts about fish. (I love everything about fish.)

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Screenshots from the Skills section of the Alexa app

Alexa Skill Facts Blueprint

Just the facts, Alexa.

Conclusion

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The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a…

Thanks to Scott Staab

Tom Hudson

Written by

Tech Director at @thirteen23. I write about new and emerging platforms and other tech-related stuff.

The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a digital product studio in Austin, Texas.

Tom Hudson

Written by

Tech Director at @thirteen23. I write about new and emerging platforms and other tech-related stuff.

The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a digital product studio in Austin, Texas.

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