Look mom, I published an Alexa skill

I created an Alexa trivia skill. Call me a nerd, but it was fun 🙂 If you haven’t already, check out the Alexa Skills Development quest from qwikLABS, the reason I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing Alexa Skills for the past couple of weeks.

My Alexa skill took me about 3 days between starting to work on the skill and clicking submit. It will probably take you less – I asked for outside help on my icon, which added some time (thanks to my sister-in-law for the awesome artwork!) and I spent an afternoon working on my trivia questions. 

Here’s what I learned about developing an Alexa Skill:

1. My skill got rejected. Guess why?

I listed my employer in my “Company Profile” in the Amazon Developer Portal. Because my company was not involved in the skill in any way, my app was rejected until I changed it. If you list something silly or misleading in your company profile, your skill will be rejected. 

Here’s what I ended up using (your own name is perfectly fine):

Amazon Developer Portal

Interestingly, I found that I cannot change that field in the Amazon Developer Portal myself. I had to contact Support. It only took a day to get resolution. 

2. When you set up your Lambda function, make sure your region is set to US-East-1. I didn’t, and I ended up having to re-do my work in the correct region. 

3. Consider whether or not your app is appropriate for all audiences. My app is about homebrew trivia. I added a line to the description of my app along the lines of “may not be appropriate for all ages”. If you do not do this, and your app is could be considered sensitive or inappropriate, your app will be rejected. 

Other disclaimer phrase ideas:

  • May not be suitable for all users
  • Parental guidance suggested or recommended
  • Use caution when…

Learn Alexa development with labs!

Check out the Alexa Skills Development quest from qwikLABS. The Working with Alexa: How to create a Trivia skill lab manual includes an entire section outlining how to customize the code to make the skill your own (as do the lab manuals for creating other types of skills). 

Here are a few notable things that I missed, almost missed, or otherwise goofed: 

1. Once published, your skill has a card in the Alexa App Store. Make sure you customize the card content and title. I almost overlooked the title. To find this section in the template provided in the Alexa Quest, hit Ctrl+F and search for “var CARD_TITLE”.

2. When users play your trivia game (or whatever type of skill you build), keep in mind that they are interacting with a robot. The robot talks slowly. So, consider the length of phrases, questions, choices, and answers. Long questions/choices/responses can try user patience.

3. Consider both Alexa’s side of the conversation and the user’s. Long utterances (commands and responses spoken by users) can be more difficult for Alexa to interpret (although Alexa is constantly learning as voice design technology improves).

4. Don’t forget a logo! You will need either a JPG or PNG image (the only accepted file types, currently). You will need two different sizes of your image, 108×108 pixels and 512×512 pixels. Note that your image will appear inside a circle, so plan for the edges to be trimmed or faded. Friendly advice, any words or phrases will probably be too small for users to read. I stuck with a simple image.

5. Worried about AWS usage charges? Probably not necessary. Here’s what my bill looks like:

AWS bill for my Lambda-Alexa service

Still nervous? You can set up alerts to notify you when you reach certain thresholds that you define, or you can set up a budget for your AWS usage

One last thing: you can still be one of the first 2000 Alexa developers to exist (!) and you’ll get a t-shirt to prove it! Check it out:

Have you published an Alexa skill? How’d it go? Comment below or tweet us @qwikLAB with the hashtag #AlexaQuest.

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