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October 23, 2018Jedidiah Esposito
I'm not a morning person. The only thought on my mind for the first several hours after waking up is getting my first cup of coffee. My wife (who is a bouncing ball of energy in the morning) sometimes tries to make conversation or ask questions about the day ahead.
“Do you have any meetings today?” she'd inquire from another room while fixing her hair, feeding the dog, and doing our taxes at the same time. Attempting to grind some coffee beans, I'd grunt or mumble a one-word reply.
Like me in the mornings, we all experience moments when conversation isn't necessary (or wanted). Sometimes complicated dialog can even get in the way, making simple tasks feel arduous.
The same is true whether we're speaking with someone we love or with a cloud-based voice service. In fact, when engaging with technology, many of us tend to have even less patience for the burdensome.
Not every Alexa skill needs to be conversational. There are thousands of skills available today that don't need dialog management, context switching, or many of the other advanced features available in the Alexa Skills Kit. This is because we only need the skill to perform a simple action based on simple information.
In my case, if there were an Alexa skill for making me coffee in the morning, I'd likely break down in tears if it responded to “Alexa, ask [skill] to make me coffee” with “Okay, I can make coffee with acidic or bitter notes, which flavor profile would you prefer?”
However, there are many more situations where we want to convey more complex information to Alexa and want her to respond in a more nuanced way. In these instances, features like dialog management, context switching, memory, and conditional slot collection come in handy.
In my example, after I've survived the early morning, I often grab another coffee from the fancy cafe near my office. By this time, the context for my coffee desires has changed. My goal isn't to get caffeine into my bloodstream as quickly as possible, but rather to enjoy an expertly prepared cup.
Here, the barista asks appropriate questions to help narrow in on what it is I'm looking for. Maybe the beans are different today, or a new item has come on the menu that I'd like. Whatever (and however) I order, it always improves my experience when she remembers my preferences and takes them into account while speaking with me. Far from a burden, the barista's ability to converse with me is of great value and vastly improves my experience on my quest for the perfect cup.
Your Alexa skills can be just as engaging and helpful as my barista. Context is the key.
To decide whether your skill idea should be conversational, consider the four hallmarks of conversational design:
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, your skill idea will benefit from conversational design.
The Alexa Skills Kit provides developers and voice designers with an opportunity to take advantage of the latest breakthroughs in Alexa's understanding of conversation through advanced features and patterns like dialog management, context switching, conditional slot collection, and memory.
To help you learn when conversational features make sense and how you can ideate for conversation, we've launched a free, self-paced online course called Designing for Conversation. Dive into the course and get started with conversational design.
Bring your big idea to life with Alexa and earn perks through our milestone-based developer promotion. US developers, publish your first Alexa skill by October 31, 2018, and earn the new Echo Dot. Publish a skill for Alexa-enabled devices with screens and earn an Echo Spot. Publish a skill using the Gadgets Skill API and earn a 2-pack of Echo Buttons. 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.