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September 06, 2018Jennifer King
Editor’s Note: The Alexa Skills Kit gives you multiple ways to build voice experiences. You can access our APIs directly with code you write using our Software Development Kits (SDKs) for Node.js, Java, and Python (beta), which give you the greatest flexibility and control. Or, you can take advantage of third-party tools that let you build skills quickly without writing code. This blog was authored by Vasili Shynkarenka, CEO of Storyline, a third-party tool that allows anyone to create engaging skills using a visual and drag-and-drop interface.
Storyline makes skill building accessible to everyone, no matter their technical background or voice design experience. You don’t have to write any code or deploy servers to launch your skill; you just write what Alexa should say and what the user should respond in a visual interface.
Skill builders have used Storyline to publish 3,500 skills to the Alexa Skills Store. And some have been so engaging that they’ve earned prize money and recognition in the Alexa skills challenges. For example, Adva Levin, writer and game designer, built her Kids Court skill entirely in Storyline. Kids Court was her first Alexa skill and Grand Prize winner of the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids.
Getting started with Storyline is easy. Just create an account, choose your skill type, and pick a template. When you’re done building, you can test your skill right in the browser and easily connect your skill to your Alexa Developer Account. Check out this video for a complete overview of how Storyline works.
We’ve looked at the thousands of Alexa skills published with Storyline and learned a lot about how you can use our visual drag-and-drop interface to build engaging voice experiences. Here we share the three best types of skills you can build with Storyline and some examples.
An interactive story is a type of skill that allows customers to engage with narrative content using their voice. The skill offers various paths to take throughout the story, all leading to a different experience in the end. The story might also ask customers for their name and make the experience even more personalized. With Storyline, you can easily build interactive stories of all sizes.
My African Safari Takes Users on a Voice-First Adventure
My African Safari, developed by Yancey Grantham, is an interactive adventure that takes users to Kruger National Park. The story offers unexpected twists and turns, including going for a bush walk, stalking lions, making paint, creating rock art, and getting chased by a rhino. And the skill provides a variety of experiences with two chapters, eight stories, and 26 different endings.
To see how My African Safari looks in Storyline, check it out in our interactive browser preview here.
When Grantham started the voice design process, he first drew diagrams of the experience and dialogs on paper. With over an hour of content in the skill, he needed to make sure the experience was seamless for users. He tested the interactions in Storyline to make sure there were no dead ends in the story.
Grantham also used sound effects to make the experience more immersive and engaging, as if you were actually in Kruger National Park. My African Safari includes over pieces of 100 audio data.
Another valuable lesson Grantham learned is that interactivity is the key to voice experience. You need to make sure the user an active participant, and avoid having Alexa talk too much before an interaction. Try to keep talking to less than 30 seconds and, ideally, pass the one-breath test.
Retired Teacher Generates Complex Stories to Keep Users Engaged
Story Time is another engaging interactive story skill, built by retired elementary school teacher and former web designer Bill McCarthy. His skill generates 2-minute long stories for kids using 25 variables with multiple story components (such as when, where, name, color, title, and saying).
In addition to having a good invocation name for his skill, McCarthy created a unique way to break a story into small pieces and then select a random choice for each part of the content. He used 25 API requests in Storyline to grab different story components from a spreadsheet service and then compose them all together in the Alexa response.
See how it looks in Storyline below or check out the interactive preview here. Notice the very last Alexa response where the story is being composed. Bill has expertly used variables and API requests here to create a random story generator, where the odds of encountering a similar story are approximately one in a billion.
Start building interactive stories with Storyline. Or learn more about building interactive story skills with the Alexa Skills Kit:
Alexa expands the possibilities of how you deliver content to customers via voice. With Storyline, you can build audio content skills, trivia skills, and so much more to make your content available through Alexa. Using our templates, you can take a pre-built skill structure (like the Radio Station template, for example) or create one from scratch.
Yo-Yo Ma Celebrates Bach in Amazon Alexa Series
As part of the campaign for his new album, “Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites,” Yo-Yo Ma has created a voice experience to engage a new audience of listeners with classical music. In 36 short episodes, Ma takes listeners on a journey through the music of J.S. Bach, sharing snippets from “Six Evolutions” and stories from a lifetime of playing Bach’s cello suites.
The developer, Sony Classical, used Storyline to create the content that is designed for anyone who is curious about classical music and its contemporary significance. They used an Audio Player block in Storyline for each music episode. To accompany the Yo-Yo Ma’s Musical Moments experience, Sony Classical also used Storyline to create a flash briefing, Today in Classical. With the help of this flash briefing skill, built for anyone curious about classical music, customers can join Sony for a daily conversation with prominent performers talking about the music they love.
Sfinakia Fm Reaches Greek Music Lovers Around the Globe
Greek Radio by Sfinakia Fm is a radio skill that connects you with Sfinakia FM Hellenic Radio from Washington D.C. The developer, Yianis Fournelis, says that he built the skill to reach more listeners around the globe. He used the Sounds template and Audio Player block in Storyline to build the skill.
After trying several other options to build an audio skill, he turned to Storyline for its ease of use. Within a month he was able to publish Greek Radio by Sfinakia Fm and eight additional skills. Fournelis says he plans to collaborate with other Greek radio stations and Greek companies who are interested in expanding their reach with Alexa. To see how Greek Radio by Sfinakia Fm looks in Storyline, click here.
Start building your voice experience with Storyline. Or learn more about building fact, quiz, and trivia skills with the Alexa Skills Kit:
A flash briefing skill provides a quick overview of news and other content such as comedy, interviews, and lists. You can build a flash briefing skill to deliver fresh content to customers via pre-recorded audio clips or text-to-speech (TTS) updates. A customer discovers and enables flash briefing skills in the Flash Briefing section under Settings in the Alexa app, or by searching for "flash briefing" in the Skills section of the app.
Storyline makes it very simple to create flash briefing skills. You don’t even have to have an RSS feed; you can just create posts (with text, audio, or video content) and schedule them using calendar feature.
Microsoft Uses Flash Briefings to Deliver B2B Insights
Insights with Microsoft is a flash briefing skill built by Geoffrey Colon, Head of Brand Studio at Microsoft Advertising. The skills serves as an “information broker,” helping users make better business decisions.
"We have all this consumer data here at Microsoft and I wanted a better way to share it with business decision makers than just another website," says Colon. "People turn to videos all the time to improve their lives but voice is a conversation and in conversations, we retain information more than through visuals."
Here’s how Insights with Microsoft flash briefing looks in Storyline:
Disruptive FM Daily is another flash briefing Colon built for his Disruptive FM podcast. The skill works as an extension of his podcast—users can listen to the latest episode and get additional content such as three trending topics of the week, a top 10 music chart, and the top five hot books.
Start building your flash briefing skill with Storyline. Or learn more about building flash briefings with the Alexa Skills Kit:
For all these use cases, Storyline is a great way to create, edit, and publish a skill without writing a single line of code. You can also use Storyline to add in-skill purchasing (ISP) and sell premium content that enriches your Alexa skill experience. You can sell premium content in the form game products, interactive stories, unlocked features, and more. Click here to learn more about how you can add ISP to your Alexa skills built with Storyline.
Ready to build skills with Storyline? Here are some additional resources to reference as you get started:
If you want more custom functionality in your Alexa skill, like picking up where you left off next time you use a skill or using slot values to call a database or API, you can also use the Alexa Skills Kit. The Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation, and code samples that makes it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Check out these resources to start coding your voice experience with the Alexa Skills Kit:
Bring your big idea to life with Alexa and earn perks through our milestone-based developer promotion. US developers, publish your first Alexa skill and earn a custom Alexa developer t-shirt. If you're not in the US, check out our promotions in Canada, the UK, Germany, Japan, France, Australia, and India. Learn more about our promotion and start building today.