How You Can Create an Alexa Skill in 5 Easy Steps

With voice emerging as the simplest way to interact with digital systems, it is easy to understand why you should learn how to create an Alexa Skill. In fact, it’s easy to see why Amazon Echo sales are taking off. Voice interactions make computer-related tasks such as searches simple and readily available to a broad audience of users, such as those with limited computer skills or the disabled. Devising a custom Alexa skill means that you are placing greater access into the hands of your users. Working with Alexa to develop your own custom skill can seem a little intimidating at first, but there are actually only a few simple steps to creating a brand-new Alexa interaction.

Alexa skills are based on an interaction model: The model works somewhat like an operating system with specific outputs tied to the user input. The Alexa system works with either prebuilt models or a custom interaction model (a bit like the difference between iOS and Linux, if you will). Here are five simple steps for developing your own custom Alexa skill:

1. Design a road map for how to create an Alexa Skill for your user interface

This crucial first step involves creating a road map for how you would create an Alexa skill. Think about how you want people to interact with Alexa. Now, think about how they really will interact with it. Since people have a native ability to speak with each other, they will assume that a voice interface will behave in the same fashion during voice interactions. In any given interaction between speakers, there are plenty of instances where the words alone do not always adequately relay meaning, such as inferences or idioms. Your UI will need to incorporate an understanding of how people are likely to act. A few questions to consider when thinking about how to create an Alexa skill should include the following:

  • What user requests can this skill manage (these are the intents)?
  • What words will users need to speak to get a response?
  • What words will Alexa supply in the response?
  • How will you manage unclear or inappropriate language?

(If you would like a little more guidance with this stage, Amazon’s Voice Design Guide might help.)

2. Build your new skill using the Developer Console

You do need to start building inside Amazon’s Developer Console, so you can head on to their website. Select “Your Alexa Consoles,” “Skills” and then “Create Skill”to begin development. Name your skill (Carefully! This is the name that will be available to users when they download your creation). Make sure you choose “Custom” for your model. If you are developer and confident in your own ability to create an Alexa skill the Amazon Developer Console is the best first stop.

3. Create the interaction model

Your skill now needs an interaction model that includes the intents (what kinds of requests your skill is going to manage), sample utterances (what people will say to get a response) and the dialog model (the information and prompts for Alexa).

4. Code and test your skill

The simplest start here is to begin with an AWS Lambda function that lets you run your code without needing to manage any servers. Lambda allows you to build your Alexa skill using Node.js, Java, Python or C#. After you update your skill with an endpoint, make sure you test your code using either an Alexa device or the “Test” page. At this stage, you might also want to run a beta test in order to fix any bugs before moving to the submission stage.

5. Submit your skill for certification

When you are sure that your Alexa skill performs properly, check out Amazon’s checklist to ensure that you have addressed all the requirements needed to get certified. You can then apply for certification; the “Launch Your Skill” page helps you apply and gives you an idea of what your skill will look like when it is made available to the public.

To create an Alexa skill takes some thought about how your users will interact with it, but the actual development process is straightforward. Amazon does provide quite a few supplemental documents to help you along the way, so if you find that things are not going as smoothly as you hoped, there is no need to go it alone. After you create your first custom Alexa skill, you will have a much firmer grasp of the process, so developing future skills will become much quicker – perhaps even less than 10 minutes.

This is a great first step for developers thinking about how to create an Alexa skill. However, if you begin to think about all of the ways you can augment your skill you likely will want to connect to third party services or other systems in your own company. These additional services are what allow your skill to standout and draw engagement. To create an Alexa skill that is simple can take a few days to create an Alexa skill that is powerful and engage can take time and some trail and error. After all you want to learn how users engage with the Skill and be able to make changes and sometimes be able to do that without the developer getting involved. In those cases we would suggest connecting with a knowledgeable developer who can create an Alexa skill that suits your needs exactly.

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