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Showing posts by David Isbitski

April 18, 2017

David Isbitski

We are excited to announce our new beta testing tool for Alexa skills which makes it easy for you to get beta feedback on your skill. You can now invite users to test your Alexa skill and provide feedback before you publish your skill.

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March 27, 2017

David Isbitski


We recently announced a new program that makes it free to build and host most Alexa skills using Amazon Web Services (AWS). The program aims to help you build engaging skills by giving you access to more AWS infrastructure beyond the AWS Free Tier. Here are five ideas for using AWS services to unlock your skill's potential.

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March 15, 2017

David Isbitski


Amazon today announced a new program that will make it free for tens of thousands of Alexa developers to build and host most Alexa skills using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Many Alexa skill developers currently take advantage of the AWS Free Tier, which offers one million AWS Lambda requests and up to 750 hours of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) compute time per month at no charge. However, if developers exceed the AWS Free Tier limits, they may incur AWS usage charges each month.

Now, developers with a live Alexa skill can apply to receive a $100 AWS promotional credit and can also receive an additional $100 per month in AWS promotional credits if they incur AWS usage charges for their skill – making it free for developers to build and host most Alexa skills. Our goal is to free up developers to create more robust and unique skills that can take advantage of AWS services. We can’t wait to see what you create.

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February 23, 2017

David Isbitski


Today we’re happy to share that developers have published over 10,000 skills, making Alexa even better for customers. We’ve been blown away by the innovation and activity in the Alexa developer community. To put it in perspective, we’ve seen a 3x increase in the number of skills available since September 2016 alone. We’ve come a long way in the short time that the Alexa Skills Kit has been available for developers, and we’ve seen a wide range of unique skills that allow customers to do everything from reorder their favorite morning coffee, stay mindful through meditation, control smart home lighting or check their bank account balance.

In November we unveiled a new way for customers to discover Alexa skills and explore the breadth of the Alexa skills catalog. With Alexa skills on, customers can enable skills directly through the website and leave reviews, just like other items on Amazon. Many skills have hundreds of reviews and are rated 4-star or higher by customers. We’ve also added ways for customers to enable and find popular skills, just using their voice.

To celebrate this 10k milestone of skill selection, here are a few Alexa skill highlights:

  • Beat the Intro has the honor of being the 10,000th skill published. It’s a music game by Musicplode Media that tests your knowledge and love of music.
[Read More]

February 10, 2017

David Isbitski


Speech Synthesis Markup Language, or SSML, is a standardized markup language that provides a way to mark up text for changing how speech is synthesized. Numerous SSML tags are already supported by the Alexa Skills Kit, including: audio, break, p, phoneme, s, say-as, speak, and w.

Alexa now understands SSML Speechcons, which are special words and phrases that are pronounced more expressively by Alexa. Speechcons can be used in English (US) skills by adding a <say-as interpret-as="interjection"> tag around the speechcon you would like to use.

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January 11, 2017

David Isbitski

The Alexa Skills Kit provides the ability to display visual information, both text and images, via skill cards. These cards are a useful way to provide your users with additional information from your Alexa skill that may be too verbose or too difficult to include in the voice user interface. Skill cards can be displayed in many form factors across different types of devices. This includes the Alexa app via iOS and Android devices, the Alexa app via a web browser, on Fire Tablet, and on the big screen while interacting with skills on Fire TV.[Read More]

December 07, 2016

David Isbitski

Earlier in the year, we introduced built-ins with 15 different intents (such as Stop, Cancel, Help, Yes, No) and 10 slot types (such as Date, Number, City, etc.) that made it easier for developers to create voice interactions.  Today, the US preview of our new Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) built-in library is available to developers. This expands the library to hundreds more slots and intents covering new domains including books, video and local businesses. We chose these based on feedback from our developer community, as well as our own learnings with Alexa over the past year.

When you’re building a skill, it’s challenging to think of all the different ways your customers might ask the same question or express the same idea – all of which your skill would ideally need to understand. The new built-in intents and slots reduce your heavy-lifting by providing a pre-built model. For example, just including the following statement “SearchAction” makes your skill understand a customer’s request for phone numbers for local businesses. 

Customer usage and your feedback is important for us to improve the accuracy of the library, which will increase over the course of the preview. To provide feedback during this developer preview or submit your questions, visit our Alexa Skills Kit developer forums, create a question, and use the “built-in library” topic. We appreciate your help!

Getting Started

The built-in intent library gives you access to built-in intents that fall into categories, such as the weather forecast which I will walk through below (check out the full list of categories here). You can use these intents to add functionality to your skill without providing any sample utterances. Using one of these new built-in intents in your skill is similar to using a standard built-in intent like AMAZON.HelpIntent:

  1. Add the intent name to your intent schema.
  2. Implement a handler for the intent in your code.

The differences are:

  • Intents in the library are named according to a structure using actions, entities, and properties. Understanding this naming convention can help you understand the purpose and use of each intent.
  • Intents in the library also have slots for providing additional information from the user’s utterance. The slots are provided automatically, so you do not define them in the intent schema. In contrast, the standard built-in intents like AMAZON.HelpIntent cannot use slots.

Our weather example would have an intent schema like this:


  "intents": [


      "intent": "AMAZON.SearchAction"




Although no slots are defined in the above schema, an utterance like “what’s the weather today in Seattle” would send your skill a request with slots containing today’s date and the city “Seattle.”

These intents are designed around a set of actions, entities, and properties. The name of each intent combines these elements into an intent signature. In the above example the action is SearchAction, its property is object, and the entity is WeatherForecast.

[Read More]

November 30, 2016

David Isbitski

Update December 7, 2016: Today we announced the US preview of our new Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) built-in library is available to developers. Learn more >

A year and a half ago, we released the Alexa Skills Kit, and we’ve seen developers are eager to build skills and learn to build voice experiences. Developers like yourself have published over 5,000 skills, up from just over 100 at the beginning of the year. These skills are available on millions of Alexa-enabled devices in the US, UK and Germany.  

Introducing the Alexa Skills Kit Built-in Library

Today we announced that we will roll out a library of hundreds of new intents and slots as part of the Alexa Skills Kit in developer preview in the coming weeks (US only). These new slots and intents are the product of learnings over the last year for Alexa’s natural language understanding (NLU) that help Alexa better understand and reply to requests. With the new built-in library, we have combined those learnings with the most common requests we have seen from the developer community to offer hundreds of built-ins for use in your own skills. This is just a start and we will continue to increase the set of built-in functionality and improve their accuracy as we get feedback from all of you.  

What are Built-Ins?

With built-in intents and slot types, you do not need to provide sample utterances to train Alexa to understand customers’ intents for your skill. We introduced the concept of built-ins earlier in the year beginning with 15 intents (such as Stop, Cancel, Help, Yes, No) and 10 slot types (such as Date, Number, City, etc.). As part of the Alexa Skills Kit we now are introducing a new built-in library that provides hundreds of built-in intents and slots – for developers as part of the Alexa Skills Kit. The syntax for these built-ins are designed to make integration of these capabilities super simple in your custom skills. 

For example, let’s imagine a custom skill that allows someone to ask for the temperature in a location for the next three days. If we wanted to build this skill previously, we would have to create an interaction model that included a combination of built-in and custom intents for handling how someone would ask the question. Most likely this would include built-in slot types for city and state, a built-in slot type for the number of days, and then a lot of sample utterances to ensure Alexa was accurately understanding the question each time. We also would need to do server side type validation to ensure we were being passed the specific type of data we were looking for.

With the new built-in intents library, weather becomes an object that Alexa knows a lot about, both weather itself and its attributes, but also how a person may ask for the weather. Our interaction model now can be done with no sample utterances and a single intent! We call this new type of interaction an Intent Signature and it includes actions, entities and properties. There are numerous Intent Signatures available for use in your Alexa skills across all sorts of categories.

Stay tuned to learn more about built-in library. For more information about getting started with the Alexa Skills Kit, check out the following:

Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
Alexa Dev Chat Podcast
Alexa Training with Big Nerd Ranch
Alexa Developer Forums

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

November 04, 2016

David Isbitski

Today, we unveiled a new way for customers to browse the breadth of the Alexa skills catalog and discover new Alexa skills on See the experience.

Your Skill is Now on

Now every Alexa skill will have an detail page. On-Amazon detail pages improves discovery so that a customer can quickly find skills on Amazon and enables developers to link customers directly to their skill with a single click. This is the first time that we are offering a pre-login discovery experience for Alexa skills. Before now, customers would need to log in to the Alexa app on their mobile device or browser. Developers can also improve organic discovery by search engines by optimizing skill detail pages.


Easily Link Directly to Your Skill Detail Page

You can now link directly to your skill’s page on On the page, customers can take actions, like enable and disable the skill and link their accounts. For the first time, you can drive customers directly to your skill detail page to increase discovery and engagement for your own skill. To link directly to your skill, simply navigate to your skill’s page and grab the URL from your browser.

[Read More]

October 26, 2016

David Isbitski

In September, Amazon announced the availability of Amazon Echo outside the US, in the UK and Germany. At the same time, Amazon announced the all-new version of the groundbreaking Echo Dot for under $50, so customers can add Alexa to any room in their homes. Recently, Forrester reported on this expansion and shared the importance of expanding to voice as a customer interaction channel. Companies across the world have fair warning, voice-based intelligent agents (IAs) are here to stay.

“CMOs who don’t already have a plan for dealing with the expanding influence of voice as a customer interaction channel now have fair warning: Voice-based intelligent agents (IAs) are here to stay.” – "Quick Take: Amazon Extends Its Lead By Taking Alexa Intelligent Agent Global", by James McQuivey, Forrester Research, Inc., September 14, 2016

Read the full report

Check out these Alexa developer resources: