You don't have to stick with the standard Alexa skills as Amazon now allows you to create your own skills, without needing to know anything about coding. Even better, Amazon will allow you to sell your created skills on the Alexa Skills Store.
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.
Get started: The Amazon Alexa missing manual
What are Alexa Blueprints?
Alexa Blueprints are what they sound like. They're barebones skill templates 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.amazon.com - all you need is an Amazon account.
Alexa Blueprint skills are - by default - available to your Echo devices. You can share them with family and friends if you'd like, or put them on the Skills Store, but they're by and for you and your devices first. 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, friends or maybe local community.
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.
How do you sell your skills?
Once you've created your skill, you may want to share it with the world - not just people who follow you on social media. You can do that, and it's not too difficult to do.
Why would you want to do this? Well, maybe you made a story skill you and your family love and you think other families could like it too. Or maybe you can a small local business and you want to give people a voice-based way to reach your brand. Or maybe you're just a creator that wants to dabble in some voice-based stuff without having to learn to code.
There are a number of reasons and use cases for putting your skills out there for others to use. Once you've come up with yours, here's how you publish. On the Alexa Skill Blueprints website, head to the section called Skills You've Made.
Choose your skills and follow the steps to publish:
1. Click Details next to your skill.
2. Under Your skill actions, tap Publish to Skills Store.
3. Click Get Started.
4. Choose your opening phrase, skill name and "created by" credit.
One thing to note here. You can't change the skill name and opening phrase once you publish - so choose carefully! When creating your opening phrase, try to think of something that's easy to say. In fact, you should take some time to say it out loud before you finalize this section.
Once you've chosen, it's time to continue to Details.
5. Choose a category that best fits your skill.
6. Add some keywords that'll make searching for your skill easy.
7. Upload or create your own skill logo.
8. Enter a short and detailed skill description.
All of this is stuff is branding. Keep in mind how you want your skill to be presented to Alexa users. Make it look and sound appealing, and think about what you would want to see in a skill.
Next up is Policy. Here, you'll have to choose whether your skill is intended for people aged 13 and below, whether your skill contains advertising and a space for your to add in your own terms of service.
Finally, you'll have to review your submitted information. If everything looks good, you'll just need to click the Publish to Store button. It'll be sent to Amazon for review, and you should hear back within 1 to 2 business days.
There are a couple things to keep in mind for your skill, should you want to put it on the Skills Store. You can also link it to your small business or brand or whatever to bring yourself some awareness. But - and this is a big but - you should take a look at the content guidelines.
The basics are that you can't put anything offensive or inappropriate, like hate speech. If you're making an adult skill that refers to nudity, you need to mark it as a skill for mature audiences. Advertising is limited to skills designed to advertise a product or service, or if a skill is intended to highlight your deals at your local business (though a user has to initiate this by asking if there are deals; your skill can't just throw deals out there for no reason).
Build that guest skill
Unfortunately, there is no full-on guest mode for Amazon Echo, unlike Google Home which does have a useful guest mode that'll protect all your information from your guest. But you can tune Alexa to help your guest out while they're around.
- From the home page, scroll down to At Home.
- Click Houseguest
- Click Make Your Own.
From here, you'll need to choose what you want Alexa to share about your home. You're going to have to hunker down and really think about what someone unfamiliar with your home would want to do.
Do you not have traditional cable, instead living life as a cord cutter who uses a Roku or Apple TV to watch TV? You can put that information in the "How to do things" section. Let's run you through how to set that up.
- Scroll to the How to Do Things section.
- Type Watch TV in the Task section.
- Write out how to watch TV in steps.
- Add an optional note like "We've cut the cord".
You'll also have to fill out the other two sections, Contact and where to find things. If you're teaching someone how to watch TV, it's also worth telling them where the remote is and what it looks like. You can follow the above steps to create those skills. Once you do that, click on "Experience" up in top right corner of the page.
Now you'll have to customize the experience, which basically means telling Alexa what to say when the skill opens up. You'll need to write a main intro message, and then fill in three other random messages.