One of my favorite features of Amazon’s voice controlled speakers, the Echo and Echo Dot, is the Alexa News Flash skill. Out of the box, it plays you a quick news briefing from standard news sources. What you probably didn’t know however was that you can customize your Alexa Flash Briefing with literally thousands of skills, tailored perfectly to the news you want. Here’s how it all works and how to set it up.
Alexa Skills can give users access to accounts they've already set-up, such as the Alexa Skill for SiriusXM radio, ESPN, or even their car insurance if they have Alliance Insurance. With Alexa connected to these accounts, people can pull up details and content through their Alexa-enabled device. For example, the Alexa Skill for Major League Baseball lets Alexa users stay current with baseball stats and hear shows. Use the Alexa Skill for Fandango to not just find a movie but buy a ticket.
Alexa Skills themselves are quite helpful. However, even with an updated Skills section in the Alexa app and the ability to add skills using only your voice, discovering new and useful skills is a less than desirable experience. So much so that Amazon actually created a skill called Skill Finder which, you guessed it, helps you discover new skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."
If you think you’d like a briefing in the future, but not now, just toggle it off. If you want to permanently disable a Flash Briefing skill, you’ll need to head over to the Skills section in the app and then tap Your Skills. Find the skill you want to disable and then tap Disable Skill. You don’t delete the skill, which makes sense since nothing installs on your Alexa device.
Now you’re ready to set up your flash briefing feed. First, type in a custom error message, which can be up to 100 characters. Alexa will say this text to the user if the skill fails to deliver the content. For instance, you might say something like, “[Skill name] is not available at the moment.” To hear a preview of Alexa saying your error message, click the Play button on the right.
Like all AI devices that use National Language Processing or NLP, Alexa does not understand all voices easily. But she learns to understand her people over time. She does, however, require people to speak in simple terms, with appropriate pauses, and use specific word orders. There are many times when she will say "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that question." More than likely, she doesn't recognize a word order or misunderstood the question.
You'll notice in the lists below that many Alexa skills are called by using trigger words like open, start, play and ask. While select skills require you to use specific terms, others consider them to be interchangeable and will work with some or all of these phrases. Over time you'll begin launching your favorite skills by the words you feel most comfortable using. Initially, though, it can be fun to play around with each.