It’s been a bugbear of mine, and many other peoples, for some time: The clunky app-based way in which new Skills are discovered on the Amazon Echo. Now all that is about to change… for the better!
There is no doubt that one of the most frustrating parts of the Amazon Alexa experience is accessing the correct Skill from Amazon’s 40,000 strong Skill’s Catalogue. The very process of entering the Skills Store via desktop or mobile app seems to fly in the face of Voice First technology and the frictionless, button-free world it aims to create.
In recent months the Amazon team had attempted to improve this experience, allowing users to enable a Skill via voice command but the process still required the user to know the exact name of the Skill they wanted to access or face a tiresome list of possible options, however, the latest soon-to-come update from the Alexa team will streamline that whole process.
A new feature, catchily titled “Can Fulfill Intent Request” can now be used by developers to help Alexa find and identify your Skills in response to a user request. Essentially, Alexa will attempt to find the best Skill for the job you instruct it to do. So if you don’t already have a Skill enabled to complete the requested function, Alexa will intelligently (and silently) search for the best option. It’s a similar streamlining method as seen in the Amazon Store with “One Click Purchases”.
Amazon use’s the example of a Surfing Skill to illustrate the new feature in a post on the Alexa Developer Forum:
“If a customer asks, “Alexa, where is the best surfing today near Santa Barbara?” Alexa can use CanFulfillIntentRequest to ask surfing skills whether they can understand and fulfil the request. A surfing skill with a database of California beaches might be able to both understand and fulfil the request, while one with a database of Hawaiian beaches might only be able to understand it. Based on these responses, Alexa would invoke the skill with the database of California beaches for the customer.”
The challenge for developers will be identifying the right phrases and questions that will cause Alexa to pick their skill above others. What questions, commands or phrases should access their new Skill as the most relevant? Alexa will only send the request to Skills that are likely to be able to handle the intents and so to take advantage of the new feature it’s important to consider every possible request combination that your Skill can service.
Previously it has been possible to guide a user through the programmed intents but this new feature throws the net much wider with a daunting amount of potential voice commands needing to be considered. For those who can pitch it right, however, the results could be huge. Opening up access to their Skill to a whole new audience who previously were not aware of its existence.
The update does raise the still unanswered question of “Voice SEO” however. How can a Skill ensure it is the number one returned result to a popular request. Right now, it can’t. Amazon will use a combination of machine learning, Skill ratings and previous engagement to return the best possible result but much will come down to the developers understanding of the way users request new Skills and communicate with their devices.
It’s another small step in improving the way in which a human uses voice to communicate with a machine and it could make a massive difference for a Skills discoverability on the Echo platform. This an area in which Google Home has traditionally won out. It also further raises the idea of an “Ad Words” for Voice… a way in which a Developer can pay for their Skill to be the first result to certain requests. Currently, this is not something that has been suggested to be on Amazon’s agenda but potentially, it’s only a matter of time.
Further reading for those interested in the potential of “Voice SEO”: