Voice is the future - ask anyone. Amazon's smart speaker, the Echo, has led the way on this front, although Google has now caught up in many ways.
One of Alexa's biggest strengths is its massive library of skills. Those skills allow you to do all manner of things, from get interesting factoids to calling an Uber to keeping updated on the news, controlling your smart home and, yes, even play Skyrim. While creating a skill used to be pretty simple, Amazon has gone ahead and made it even simpler. Like, seriously, stupidly simple.
Get started: The Amazon Alexa missing manual
Amazon calls it Alexa Blueprints, and it allows you to create skills easily in minutes. How do you make sense of it all, and in what ways can you use those skills? Follow us along the blue-paved road.
What are Alexa Blueprints?
Alexa Blueprints are what they sound like. They're blueprints that allow you to create your own Alexa skills more simply than doing it from scratch. They're available to build on the web at blueprints.alexa.com - all you need is an Amazon account.
Alexa's vast collection of skills is pretty good, but the smart home is personal, and so in some cases you'll want a sull that better suit the needs of you and your family. Those skills made by either big corporations or indie developers aren't going to be able to pinpoint your every need.
For example, they're not going to have personal details about your family or details you could use to help your guests when they're staying over. Or enough ammunition to build up some fun jokes and references that could lighten the mood every once in a while.
See, Alexa Blueprint skills are only available to your Echo devices. You can share them with family and friends if you'd like, but by default they're only available on your device. And that's really the point: It's a way for you to create some fun and helpful skills that better cater to your family and friends.
What can Alexa Blueprint skills do?
Alexa Blueprints are broken up into four categories: Fun & Games, Learning & Knowledge, At Home, and Storyteller. Each category comes with several types of skills and is aimed at something different.
Fun & Games
This is exactly what it sounds like. This is a collection of skills aimed at letting you and your family (or roommates) have some good fun. Within the collection are a couple of different types of skills. First up, games.
First Letter makes you guess words in a category starting with the same letter. Trivia is a multiple choice trivia game. Doubles Trouble is to help find out which couple knows each other better. Birthday Trivia is for birthday parties, so you can see who knows the birthday boy or girl the best. Bachelorette Party is a similar idea, but for brides-to-be. Family Trivia is to create a custom game based on your family history, while Three-Word Sort has you sorting three words in order based on certain criteria. Game Show is a trivia game used in conjunction with Echo Buttons. And finally, there's Five Item Rush, which has you guessing five items in 10 seconds in a certain category.
Then there are simpler fun ideas, like Inspirations, which is a selection of motivational quotes. Burns has Alexa burning members of your family (Psst, it works great for freaking people out and making them thing Alexa has gone full Skynet). Compliments will toss compliments to your family members and friends for when ya'll need a boost. World's Best Dad and World's Best Mom are compliments specifically for the 'rents. Oh, and there's also Family Jokes and Dad Jokes, which are running lists of the best your family can offer.
Learning & Knowledge
These skills are all aimed at helping you and your family and friends learn something, though thanks to Blueprints you can also help them learn about literally whatever you want.
Quiz will allow you to create a custom quiz tailored with open-ended questions. You can do this with up to four players, and Alexa will keep tabs on who gets what right and declare a winner at the end. Naturally, you can tailor this as a good way to prepare for a big mid-term test if you'd like.
Flashcards is a voice-based version of everyone's favorite study method. You'll be able to customize the hints, the answers and the terms you're defining. You can either review or test yourself. In review mode, Alexa will tell you the term and the definition. In test mode, you'll get the term and a hint.
Facts will have you create a simple set of facts that Alexa can recite to you at almost any time. Fill it with whatever you want people to know. Maybe all the types of cheese and their properties, or your favorite superheroes. Go crazy.
Sometimes, you just need Alexa to massage your needs at home. This selection of skills is built exactly for that. It turns Alexa into a guide for your home, not just physically - but emotionally.
Like the Custom Q&A skill. This one lets you ask Alexa a bunch of questions and it'll provide an answer. Get Alexa to answer "Dad" when you ask it who the funniest guy in the world is. Or, maybe you always forget where you left your keys - just have Alexa say "it's in your pocket." Or maybe you can think of something more creative.
Houseguest, Babysitter and Petsitter are all variations on a simple idea: You have a guest and maybe you can't be around to answer their questions, so Alexa can do it for you. You can set Alexa up to answer common questions too. For instance, maybe a houseguest wants the Wi-Fi password or needs to know how the TV work
You could even load up the Babysitter skill with facts about your kids. Maybe little Jonathan likes to be read a book before bed, or maybe Daphne is allergic to peanuts. It's the same idea with Petsitter.
Alexa can be a pretty good storyteller. The Storyteller skill collection allows you to craft your very own bedtime story. Or, well, just any story really.
There are a few templates here you can work from: Fairy tale, sci-fi, fable, adventure, and two created for moms and dads. The latter two, All About Dad and All About Mom, allow you to tell a cute littler story about mom or dad (or your husband or wife if you have kids).
Each of these skills come with sound effects and other things you can do to Alexa to make it a better storyteller. You can insert dramatic pauses and even allow Alexa to customize itself to put the listener in the story. Alexa will ask for the person's name and then insert that into the story.
How do you use Alexa Blueprints?
It is really, really simple. In fact, it's so simple that it only takes a couple of steps.
1. Choose a skill blueprint.
2. Click Upgrade when Amazon tells you to upgrade to a developer account (there's no added cost or anything).
3. Customize the skill.
Customizing the skill depends on which skill you're creating. Storyteller, for instance, has a large text field that you can write your story in. On the left side of the screen, there are options and buttons for inserting sounds, dramatic pauses and blank spots for names.
In the text field, if you click on the sounds, pauses and blanks, you can customize them. Clicking on them will also bring up a small info bubble that tells you what those features do.
Other skills, like jokes or facts, will have you filling in a number of text fields. Each section will have a number of default entries, which you can delete by clicking the "x" on the right side. Clicking on "+ Add" will allow you to add entries. You can pretty much type whatever you want, though we've found Alexa seems to struggle with commas after pronouns.
In fact, in some skill blueprints Amazon will even warn you that Alexa isn't the best at saying names and such in these blueprints, so it's best to avoid them as much as you can. Once you fill out that form, it's time to move on.
4. Customize the experience (if you have a game, you'll be asked to create an introduction for Alexa).
5. Name your skill.
6. Click Create.
Your skill will take a couple of minutes to create, and then it'll be automatically uploaded to your Echo device. The only thing left to do is to ask Alexa to open it up and test it out. If you like it, or if your friends and family like it when they come over, you can also share them.
Here's how to do that.
1. Click Skills You've Made at the top of blueprints.amazon.com.
2. Click Details next to the skill you want to share.
3. Select Share with Others.
4. Answer whether the skill is intended for people under 13.
5. Choose your sharing method.
You can share your skill via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a regular old link. Once opened, the link will ask for confirmation from the other person and then install on their Echo device. You can check who is using your skills in the same section, and you can also revoke access to that skill whenever you want.