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.
Many Alexa Skills are tailored for news and information. Alexa's Flash Briefing, a quick update of top headlines, can be pulled from a preferred media source: Fox News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Show are just a few options. Users can also check train or bus schedules, check for someplace to eat through Restaurant Finder, check the traffic, or find a select store's hours.
This shouldn't scare you away, however. Alexa-enabled devices are great to have in your home and, with a little tweaking, can prove to be very good companions. I’ve hand-picked some of the most useful and unique Alexa skills from the thousands that are out there. Many of these skills will not be enabled by default, so you may need to follow the proper activation steps before using each one for the first time. 

Alexa, open Save Water by Colgate. With this skill, Alexa begins a dialogue where users can receive water conservation facts and tips while brushing their teeth. To encourage tooth-scrubbing listeners to turn off the sink faucet while they brush, Alexa will even play the sound of running water to replace the sound of actual water coming out of the faucet. 


For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you record your food intake using your voice, or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."
Amazon's Alexa is the voice-activated, interactive AI bot, or personal assistant, that lets people speak with their Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and other Amazon smart home devices. Like Siri and Cortana, Alexa is designed to respond to a number of different commands and even converse with users. Alexa comes with more than a few capabilities: playing music, pulling up the weather or even reading news. But Alexa Skills are apps that give Alexa even more abilities, letting her speak to more devices even websites.
For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you record your food intake using your voice, or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."

The flash briefing skill submission process provides the steps to submit descriptive information about your skill and configure one or more feeds for each skill. You can then test your skill in your Alexa-enabled device and provide additional information about how you handle customer data and privacy. Once you've provided this information, you can submit your flash briefing skill for certification and use by customers.


Because Amazon opened up the development of Alexa Skills to anyone with the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) in 2015, anyone can create an Alexa Skill. As Alexa uses Natural Language Programing (NLP), those looking to build a skill don't need to worry about complex speech recognition. The ASK tools also makes it easier for novices to work with sophisticated NLP ideas.

Flash briefings are great for quickly informing your audience, but a fully interactive Alexa skill or Google Assistant action will allow even more freedom. With a well-designed skill, you can provide personalized service and content to your audience at any time — not just once a day or week. With a voice chatbot analytics tool like we provide as Botanalytics, you can also receive helpful usage data to get to know your audience even better.
You can create a flash briefing skill if you own, or have the right to distribute, original text or audio content that updates frequently. You should understand web technologies and have the ability to configure HTTPS, RSS and/or JSON content. The voice interactions for a flash briefing skill are defined by Amazon, but you must be able edit the format of your content so that the flash briefing Skill API can understand it.
Note: Your Flash Briefing settings apply to all Alexa devices registered to your Amazon account, and all users in your home get access to the same Flash Briefing content. However, if you or anyone in your home has a voice profile, Flash Briefing automatically skips stories and news items you've already heard. To learn more, go to About Alexa Voice Profiles.
Google Assistant doesn’t have flash briefings in the Alexa sense — instead, you’ll be publishing your audio content as a podcast. This is a little more technical than Alexa’s process. First, your briefing will need its own homepage. Second, you’ll need to edit the briefing’s RSS feed to include snippets of code that are required for Google Assistant to recognize it in its directory — check out all the requirements here. Google doesn’t require setting up an Assistant action. Once you’ve included the necessary code in your RSS feed, your podcast will show up automatically within search results.
If you want to do some casual research for a future trip, you can get fare estimates using the Kayak skill. You can say, "Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400" or "Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from Los Angeles to Dublin." The skill will ask for additional information and eventually provide you with a series of options and price ranges.
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