Remember how you felt on that Caribbean vacation? When your parents celebrated their silver anniversary? When you danced to your favorite song at prom?
Whatever the cherished memory, you probably took a lot of photos, trying to capture the magic of the moment. And when you look back at those photos, you hope to relive the swell of emotions from that moment all over again.
That’s where the Mylestone Memories skill comes in. Mylestone is a company that transforms memories into unique, audible stories. And its skill for Alexa helps customers relive their most precious moments at any time, right on their device with Alexa.
Upload a few pictures, a video, a favorite song, or even a newspaper clipping, and Mylestone will weave them into a narrative. To start their journey down memory lane, customers simply say, “Alexa, ask Mylestone Memories to tell me a story.” And Alexa will tell them a story that carries them back in time.
Preserving the ‘Memories of Our Most Magical Moments’
Mylestone CEO Dave Balter first got the idea for the business in 2013 on one of his weekly business flights to La Guardia Airport. During the final approach, he’d see the cemeteries below with their rows and rows of tombstones. But week after week, he never saw a single visitor there. He wondered: What’s changed? Why don’t people visit their loved ones anymore?
The answer: the rise of social media, thought Balter. These days, people tend to memorialize their loved ones on social media platforms. People share photos and thoughts of their loved one, then family and friends can virtually respond with their own memories. This got Balter thinking about the tools at our disposal for storing and reliving our memories.
“It spurred me to think about how we could better preserve the memories of our most magical moments and of the people we've lost,” says Balter.
Balter’s realization eventually evolved into Mylestone, which he co-founded with Jim Myers, an expert in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
Alexa: ‘The Moment We Were Waiting For’
Myers likes to joke that behind the scenes, Mylestone uses 12 hamsters fitted with special AI diodes. In fact, it’s his own experience in AI and ML that allows Mylestone’s software to make surprising inferences from the limited data provided by the user.
Using AI/ML technology on photos, videos, and stories, the software can recognize the people, places, landmarks, and events captured in those media. Then it uses smartbots and other crawlers to discover related information not directly visible in those media—things like current events and the user’s concurrent posts on social media.
But at first, something wasn’t quite right about Mylestone’s delivery. Customers would submit photos via the web, then after receiving their story, they’d say, “That’s nice,” and never return. The same thing happened after Mylestone launched a native smartphone app in late 2016. Something about the experience was falling short.
Then came an aha moment in January when Myers and his engineering team discovered Alexa. After playing with their new Amazon Echo device, they were floored by its potential.
In less than 48 hours, Mylestone’s developers had a prototype Alexa skill up and running. And within a week, they were setting up their first user testing. They refined the flow and utterance of the voice user interface through live user testing, an exercise they still perform regularly.
When Mylestone released its Alexa skill in February, it was clear: The service had finally found its voice.
“We spent a long time thinking about how to deliver our memorialization in an impactful way,” says Balter. “But it was the output we couldn't quite get right. I think of Alexa as the moment we were waiting for.”
Alexa Delivers Magical Memories Unlike Any Other
Balter recounts one customer’s experience with Mylestone Memories. The user submitted several photos of himself stepping over a yellow strip on the pavement. From the image background, the software recognized the location as Ciudád de Mitad, Ecuador, which is right on the equator.
But the story went beyond that. It also determined the user had visited the rain and cloud forests elsewhere in Ecuador as part of a longer vacation. How? It wasn’t based directly on the photos he submitted, but on Facebook posts he’d shared during his trip. The customer had used his Facebook account to sign into Mylestone’s website, authorizing access to his posts.
Mylestone created a short narrative that started, “Pick a hemisphere, north or south. What’s it going it be?” Then it went on to mention other vacation highlights, even mentioning the two travelers by name and suggesting a shop back home where they might get a good cup of Ecuadorian coffee.
The customer was simply amazed by the story—not just because of the details but because of its delivery. The memory was always there, says Balter, but by adding voice, Alexa brought it to life. Hearing a memory somehow makes it more engaging than reading static text or swiping photos on a screen.
“It’s such a different feeling than looking at a few photos on my phone,” the customer wrote.
“Maybe it’s because storytelling was here long before anyone ever wrote down words or took a picture," says Balter. "Whatever the reason may be, Alexa transforms our narratives into something magical.”
Build a Skill, Get a Shirt
The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) enables developers to build capabilities, called skills, for Alexa. ASK is a collection of self-service APIs, documentation, tools, and code samples that make it fast and easy for anyone to add skills to Alexa.
Developers have built more than 12,000 skills with ASK. Explore the stories behind some of these innovations, then start building your own skill. Once you publish your skill, mark the occasion with a