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December 14, 2017Kristin Fritsche
Note: You can also read this story in German.
For customers of Wetter.com in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, checking the weather forecast is as simple as asking Alexa. Wetter.com, Germany’s leading website for weather, developed an Alexa skill that makes it fast and easy for customers to get their daily and weekly forecasts.
Wetter.com has traditionally provided customers comprehensive weather reports via its website, app, and television. Even before the cloud-based voice service Amazon Alexa arrived in Germany, Severin Orth, Full Stack Developer at Wetter.com, began thinking about the potential of voice as a new form of interaction for Wetter.com customers.
“I’m very interested in new technology, and seeing how people were using Alexa in America, I knew this was something we needed to experiment with,” says Orth. “At the time, Alexa wasn’t available in Germany, but because a voice solution aligned so well with our business goals and the other services we provide, we started imagining what eventually became our skill for Alexa.”
Orth and his team set out to develop a custom skill that delivered forecast information to help customers ask Alexa about the weather. Their goal: Give people the weather information they need, when they need it, and in the most convenient way possible.
Orth secured approval from his boss, assembled a team, and built a working prototype.
“The Alexa Skills Kit has great documentation, and building the skill was very easy,” says Orth.
The skill enables customers to simply say, “Alexa, ask Wetter.com for the weather today in Berlin,” and Alexa provides the latest forecast and changes throughout the day for that location. Forecast information may include minimum and maximum temperatures as well as relevant notes about wind, sunshine, rain, and clouds by time of day.
Prior to publishing their skill, Orth and his team collected customer feedback to iterate and refine the user experience. This exercise revealed opportunities for improvement. For example, if a customer asked for the weather in Rome, the skill needed to identify that the user wanted the forecast for the town of Rome, Germany and not Rome, Italy.
There were other things to consider when designing for voice, says Orth.
“For a webpage, you aim to deliver something that people are excited to read. For voice, your goal is to create something that makes people want to listen,” says Orth.
To delight customers, Orth and team added some Easter eggs to the skill. In addition to weather forecasts, customers can ask Alexa whether they need an umbrella or a raincoat, or if they should bring their sunglasses.
Orth says the most important part of developing a skill is understanding what the users want to know.
“When we watched people use the skill, we were really surprised by what they’d ask,” says Orth. “We planned on delivering weather forecasts, but then we’d hear users asking, ‘Should I plant flowers today?’ It gives us many more ideas for how we can enhance the skill in the future.”
For its website and other channels, Wetter.com teams up with a data provider for weather information. Orth and his team use this same data for the Alexa skill. The skill uses an API to collect the data to deliver voice responses for inquiries into weather reports for today, tomorrow, or next week.
Wetter.com hosts its skill on AWS Lambda which also serves as a bridge between its backend and Alexa. Additionally, Wetter.com’s warning delivery uses Amazon’s API Gateway as a proxy for two Lambda functions, Amazon DynamoDB for storing and delivering weather warnings, and Amazon CloudWatch for login monitoring.
“Since Alexa wasn’t available in Germany when we were developing the skill, the Amazon team was incredibly helpful at assisting us in getting the skill live and providing feedback along the way,” says Orth.
While most of the skill’s users are based in Germany, the skill can deliver forecasts for 10 to 16 days in the future, depending on where users are located.
“Wetter.com focuses on providing weather for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. However, you can be located anywhere in the world and get weather forecasts using our Alexa skill—as long as you speak and understand German,” says Orth.
With the new notifications feature, Wetter.com leverages users’ locations to provide notifications with weather warnings from the German Weather Service.
“If a storm is coming, users will know and can be prepared,” says Orth.
After opting in to receive notifications, the customer is alerted when there is new weather information to retrieve. The customer can simply ask, “Alexa, what did I miss?”, or “Alexa, read my notifications,” and Alexa will inform the user accordingly.
Since June, Wetter.com has introduced flash briefings for eight major cities with additional cities coming soon. Flash briefings for pollen counts are also on the horizon.
“Our next round of development will include information on pollen counts. So, if a user is allergic to trees or flowers, he or she can simply ask Alexa for their Wetter.com daily pollen flash briefing and know what places to avoid during certain times of the day,” says Orth.
And the team has more updates in the works. Next up, Wetter.com plans to enhance their skill to include features such as a card response. For example, if a customer asks if it’s raining in Munich, the card response will display an image of Munich in the rain. Customers can also look forward to additional weather data including snow storm forecasting and allergen information.
In just a few months, Wetter.com has come a long way in the field of voice. And Orth says learning to build for voice is as easy as getting started.
“Developing this skill has really got us thinking about how we can improve our other services with voice,” says Orth. “My biggest advice for developers is to just get started. Build a basic skill, test it, and improve along the way."
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