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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
When Alexa recognizes your voice, stories and news items you’ve already heard will be skipped. To set up voice recognition, say “Alexa, learn my voice.” This is feature is especially useful if you listen to flash briefings on weekends when many flash briefings don’t post new content. With Alexa voice recognition enabled, you won’t hear the flash briefing episodes you already listened to.
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.