When fans of University of California, Irvine’s Anteaters want the latest news on their team, they simply ask Alexa. UCI’s Alexa skill delivers game results, team updates, and special announcements whenever fans ask.
George Rodriguez, the skill’s creator, says he got the idea while using his own Amazon Echo.
“Looking at my own device, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could build a functionality that would engage students and fans?’” says Rodriguez, Application Developer at UCI.
When Rodriguez shared his idea, his colleagues knew he was onto something. Most visitors to the UCI Athletics website seek general updates and daily snapshots of the latest news stories. Delivering those updates via voice would not only provide a delightful experience for Anteater fans but also give UCI a way to stand out as an early adopter of an emerging technology.
“Alexa is right in line with how and where we like to push boundaries,” says Dominic Simons, Assistant Director of Marketing at UCI Athletics. “By keeping a pulse on innovative technologies, we can discover new ways to differentiate ourselves and offer our fans new experiences.”
‘Just a Couple of Hours’ to Learn, Design, Build
To build his first-ever voice experience, Rodriguez turned to the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). He used the RSS feed from the UCI Athletics website to build a Flash Briefing Skill, which provides a quick overview of news and other updates. He also added capabilities to inject custom messages as needed.
Once on the university’s web server, the RSS feed is parsed to feature just the five most relevant updates. Rodriguez says he chosed not to share a laundry list of updates as sharing just the top news made for a more valuable user experience. When designing experiences for the ear, sometimes less is more, he learned.
Even with these first-timer lessons, the whole development process was fast and intuitive, says Rodriguez.
“Not only is the Flash Briefing Skill template simple to use, but ASK made development quick and easy as well,” says Rodriguez. “The time from investigating what it takes to create a skill to having the skill ready was just a couple of hours.”
The end result: Anteater fans simply ask, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?” to receive the latest in news and other relevant information. Alexa then reads out the top five stories.
UCI published the skill last December, and it has been well-received by Anteater fans as well as the school administration.
“User feedback has been very positive and the university is really excited about it,” says Simons. “This new Alexa skill has been a simple and low-investment way to reach new fans while being innovative and staying on the edge of technology.”
‘The Possibilities Are Endless’
Only time will tell what’s next in innovation for UCI Athletics, but one thing’s for sure: the team is just getting started with Alexa.
For example, Rodriguez is exploring ways to leverage more offerings from Amazon Web Services to build more sophisticated skills. UCI is also reviewing their exisiting infrastructure and the way they deliver information to fans to explore other opportunities for Alexa integrations.
“Our experience with this Alexa skill has really opened our eyes to the fact that there is a lot of possibility here,” says Simons. “We’re looking forward to seeing how others utilize Alexa, and we feel that the education space as a whole has a lot of potential for voice experiences.”
For other businesses and developers looking to leverage Alexa, Simons has this advice: “Not only is Alexa an exciting and emerging technology you can use to benefit your business, but it’s really easy to get started. Create your first skill and learn. The possibilities are endless.”
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, templates, and code samples that make it fast and easy for anyone to add skills to Alexa.
Developers have built more than 10,000 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 free, limited-edition Alexa dev shirt. Quantities are limited.