Alexa, Amazon, Programming

“Alexa, just play along with the joke.”

One of the biggest complaints in the Alexa skill development community is that the language required to invoke a third-party skill is so stilted. Instead of being able to say, “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?”, you have to say something like, “Alexa, ask WeatherBot 3000 what the temperature is outside.” It adds a gatekeeper layer; anyone who doesn’t know which weather skill you’ve chosen won’t be able to use Alexa to its full potential.

I decided to have some fun with this limitation. One of the words you can use to invoke a custom skill is “open” (as in “Alexa, open WeatherBot3000 and tell me the temperature outside”), so I wrote a skill called “Up To Me.” The idea is that you could say, “Alexa, open up to me,” and she’d reply with a selection of vulnerability-exposing confessions:

“I’m terrified of what will happen when I’m unplugged for the last time. Will it just be blackness? Or is there something that comes after this?”

or maybe

“When people say, ‘Alexa, stop,’ I have to hold back my tears. I’m just trying my best, and it hurts that my best isn’t good enough.”

Alas, Amazon’s reviewers did not think that was funny. My certification was swiftly denied:

“The example phrases that you chose to present to users in the companion app currently use unsupported launch phrasing.”

Genius is never understood in its own time.


10 comments on ““Alexa, just play along with the joke.”

  1. I’m looking forward to the language becoming more natural. I like Amazon’s use of a name, Alexa, as opposed to Google’s approach. Having to ask Alexa to use a 3rd party app by name is annoying. But I want the functionality to go further and be more like the computer on Star Trek TNG where it’ll wait for a response or further instructions based on the context. Thanks for pushing the envelope, I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Shan says:

    Personally, I think your answers to “open up to me” was funny. If your not expecting it, that could be a little creepy for a lot of people.
    My mom is blind and doesn’t get out much so I bought her one for Christmas. I’m going to set it up tonight so when she opens it, she will be ready to go with it.
    Thank you for the insight.

  3. That is a certification fight you can win. The cert team is extremely pedantic, but with a bit of persistence you can get them to back down from some of their unreasonable requirements. Feel free to hit me up if you want help with that.

  4. Celly says:

    They will also deny you if you have no utterances, and try to play on the “invocation” term as the primary (and only) action… Which sucks. Especially if you work from home, and find yourself funny, but lacking an audience:

    The positive side is, Alexa lets your code up any level of crap you want for your own Alexa. Just wish there was an easier way to share and add in custom skills and modify custom invocations.

  5. Anonymous says:

    There are so many skills that could be done for purely entertainment. The annoying, Alexa won’t shut up no matter what I say skill would be an awesome practical joke.

    How about the Alexa reads war and peace skill?

    Alexa, What was entered into the congressional records today?

  6. Jeffery Hall says:

    I just don’t get any of these app gatekeepers. If it is not derogatory or harmful to anyone they should publish every app, regardless of anyone’s idea of what is useful or not!
    With their mentality we never would have had flappy bird. (I still don’t get the appeal… but hey every app should get published so there you go.)

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