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May 16, 2018Jennifer King
Adva Levin isn’t your typical Alexa skill developer. In fact, she isn’t a developer at all. Yet Levin’s first Alexa skill called Kids Court won the $20,000 Grand Prize plus a $5,000 Finalist Prize in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids.
“I'm a content writer and a designer, not a developer,” says Levin. “I knew I wanted to do something with voice and kids. When Amazon announced the competition, it was a huge motivation for me to get into the Alexa space.”
Levin started looking for developers and began working on some ideas. She started working with a colleague on a skill called Out the Door that turns kids’ morning routine into a fun adventure. It was then that she discovered the Storyline platform and realized it’s a great tool to turn some of her ideas into Alexa skills.
“Storyline lets me graphically implement my conversation as a decision tree, test it, turn it into code, and deploy it by clicking a button,” says Levin. “It also lets me update the content easily, which is critical since Kids Court relies so heavily on fresh content.”
The experience proved Levin doesn’t have to code to pursue a promising career in voice. Instead, she can do what comes naturally for her: create great content-based experiences.
“I'd experimented creating for a lot of different mediums,” says Levin. “But when I discovered creating experiences for voice, everything I love to do came together.”
For years, Levin worked on content strategy for various start-ups and their products. She’d also dabbled in game design for start-up gaming companies. But designing voice interactions for kids is what really captured her interest.
In 2017, Levin started Pretzel Labs, a voice design company that creates voice-based experiences for kids and families. Pretzel Labs published several Alexa skills, for which Levin had designed the conversation models and dialog. Levin works with developers to build some of the projects, and for others she uses Storyline.
When the opportunity to compete in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids presented itself, Levin started to imagine how Alexa can fit creatively into family lives. To come up with her winning idea, she brought an Echo device into a roomful of kids who had never engaged with Alexa before to observe their interactions.
“It was so amazing to watch how naturally kids interact with voice,” says Levin. “They are so imaginative and natural with it. It opens up a whole world of possibilities for voice-driven education, stories, and games.”
Levin wanted her skill to solve a common problem for kids and their parents. From observing other families, Levin knew kids’ fighting is one of the most annoying daily incidents for many parents. This sparked her idea to design a skill that could arbitrate those spats calmly, and potentially amuse and educate kids at the same time.
“Most fights aren’t really about your sister stealing your clothes or your brother chewing with his mouth open,” says Levin. “They are about kids wanting to make themselves heard. So I designed Kids Court to let kids talk out their differences and laugh them off.”
In Kids Court, Judge Lexy presides over a mock trial, where one child is the prosecutor and the other is the defendant. Judge Lexy explains how a trial works and makes sure both parties are represented, can make their case, and present evidence and witnesses. Then Judge Lexy pronounces her verdict, along with some rather interesting, and even silly, punishments for the losing party.
Kids Court requires each party to listen patiently to the other side. While Judge Lexy’s pronouncements are somewhat arbitrary, the punishments are so amusing kids often end up laughing and forgetting why they were fighting in the first place. The main thing is that kids (and their parents) get to present their case and resolve the situation in a calm and fun way.
Levin used Storyline to transform the voice design and dialog for her idea into Kids Court, which ultimately won her the Grand Prize in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids.
“For this specific skill, the main challenge was to design the logic, write the dialog and come up with a huge variety of content,” says Levin. “But once I had that set, building the actual skill with Storyline was very easy.”
Storyline allows a content writer like Levin to build, test, publish, and manage their custom Alexa skills and flash briefings, without writing a single line of code.
“Storyline lets me update Kids Court with the daily verdict suggestions and case stories I get from kids in just minutes,” says Levin.
Kids Court may have been the first Alexa skill Levin created on her own, but it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, she quickly used storyline to release another kid skill called Freeze Dancers, proving the career opportunities in voice aren’t just for coders, but for non-developers too.
“The world of voice is a beautifully evolving space” says Levin. “There is room for smart, creative people from all backgrounds to come in, influence it, and create all sorts of amazing new voice experiences.”
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