Storyline: Alexa Skill Building Tool

BEGINNERS

Q: “What is Storyline?” 

A: Storyline is a tool that allows you to create Amazon Alexa skills in a visual interface and without coding. You can learn more about it by watching this 7-minute tutorial on YouTube.

Q. What is the website?

A. https://getstoryline.com

Q: “I’m new to Alexa skills. Where do I start?”

A: First, go to your Storyline projects screen and try building a skill. You will learn a lot just by trying things. Second, watch this 7-minute tutorial on YouTube. It covers the basics of Storyline. Third, search through existing posts and questions in our Storyline Community Facebook group. If you still can’t find an answer, go ahead and create a new post that will reach our growing community of 800+ members.

Q: “I don’t have an Echo device? Can I use Storyline?”

A: Yes. You don’t have to own an Echo device to be able to create skills for Alexa. More than that, you can get Echo device for free if your skill reaches 100 users. You only need Amazon account and Amazon Developer account to start creating skills.

Q: “How can I test my skill if I don’t have an Echo device?”

A: You can do that by using the Testing simulator in the Amazon Developer Portal.

Q: “What is your pricing?” 

A: Storyline has two plans: Free and PRO. PRO version is $49 per month. It opens that scheduling feature, so you can log in once and write flash briefing posts for the whole week, which saves time. And also dedicated customer support from us 🙂 Read more about our pricing here.

Q: “Can I get paid for building Alexa skills?”

A: Yes. Every month, developers can earn money for eligible skills that drive some of the highest customer engagement. Eligible skill categories include: Education & Reference; Food & Drink; Games, Trivia & Accessories; Health & Fitness; Lifestyle; Music & Audio; and Productivity. Developers can increase their level of skill engagement and potentially earn more by improving their skill, building more skills, and making their skills available in the US, UK, and Germany. Read more about rewards here.

DOCUMENTATION

Q: “Do you have any documentation about Storyline?”

A: Yes, we have three things you might be interested in:

  1. YouTube channel with video tutorials;
  2. Help Center with text guides;
  3. Blog with tutorials and case studies.

HOW TO

Q: “How to clone a skill?”

A: Go to the projects list page in Storyline and click on the three dots icon near your project name. There you’ll see the “Duplicate” button. After the project is duplicated, you’ll need to enter it’s name and select a language.

Q: “How to delete a skill?”

A: Go to the projects list page in Storyline and click on the three dots icon near your project name. There you’ll see the “Delete” button. Make sure to double-check that you really want to delete the project, because this action is permanent.

Q: “How to rename my skill?”

A: Go to the projects list page on Storyline, and click on the 3-dot icon near your skill name. There you’ll see a “Rename” button.

FLASH BRIEFING

Q: “What are flash briefings?” 

A: A Flash Briefing provides a quick overview of news and other content such as comedy, interviews, and lists. People discover and enable Flash Briefing skills in the Flash Briefing section under Settings in the Alexa app, or by searching for “flash briefing” in the Skills section of the app. People receive their Flash Briefing by asking their Alexa-enabled device things like, “Alexa, give me my Flash Briefing” or “Alexa, tell me the news.” Alexa either reads text content or plays audio content that is provided by each enabled skill. Typically a Flash Briefing becomes a part of a people’s daily routine as they get ready for work or school, or wind down after their day.

Q: “Flash briefings: do I need to update every day? What are the rules?”

A: A Flash Briefing Skill provides content for a customer’s Flash Briefing, and so when you create a Flash Briefing skill, you have a chance for your original content to reach customers on a daily basis. Because it’s typically received daily, your content should update at least that often. Also, you can provide your content as a text for Alexa to read or audio for Alexa to play.

Q: “Can I create a flash briefing from an RSS feed?”

A: No, Storyline doesn’t support that at the moment.

Q: “Does Amazon provide developer rewards for flash briefings?”

A: No. Each month Amazon selects top performing custom skills based on customer engagement, that are correctly categorized in any of seven eligible skill categories:

  • Education & Reference
  • Food & Drink
  • Games, Trivia & Accessories
  • Health & Fitness
  • Lifestyle
  • Music & Audio
  • Productivity

Read more about Developer Rewards here.

AUDIO FILES:

Q: “What is the audio format for streaming my audio files?” 

A: MP3. Right now it’s possible to insert up to 5 tracks 90-second long each into one Alexa statement. Use this tool to convert your mp3 files into the Alexa-compatible format.

JSON API REQUESTS

Q: “What is JSON? API Calls? How can I leverage these?” 

A: JSON  is  a lightweight format for transferring data over the web. In Storyline, you can use JSON API request step to pull data from some service (like weather site or google sheets) and use that data in your skill. Here’s a tutorial on that.

Q: “Can I create an Alexa skill using Google Sheets and Storyline?”

A: Yes. Read our tutorial on how to create an Alexa skill from Google Sheets here.

NATURAL LANGUAGE PROCESSING

Q: “What is NLP and how it works?”

A: NLP stands for natural language processing. It’s a tech that helps Alexa understand the context of people’s phrases. That context is called intent. To help Alexa realize that “good” and “great” mean the same thing for your skill, you can use synonyms (Amazon calls them utterances).

Q: “What are intents?”

A: Think about intents as of user replies. Whenever user says something to Alexa, it’s an intent. If you’re using Storyline, you don’t have to create them manually — we handle that for you.

Q: “What is “help” and “stop” in my skill?” 

A: Every skill has to support “help” and “stop” intents to keep the user experience great. Make sure your “help” message ends with a question prompting the user to complete their request. As for your “stop” message, make sure it’s short, specific and motivates people to come back.

Q: “What are synonyms and why do I need them, and how should I use them?” 

A: Synonyms help Alexa’s AI understand user replies. For example, if you create a user reply called “good” in Storyline, you can add synonyms like “awesome,” “great,” “fantastic” to help Alexa understand the intent of the user reply. All of them will trigger the same user reply.

Q: “Do you have any built-in NLP service?”

A: No. Since we’re focused on Amazon Alexa only at the moment, we don’t use any NLP providers like wit.ai or api.ai because Alexa has its own built-in NLP mechanism.

SSML:

Q: “What is SSML and how to use it?”

A: Alexa automatically handles standard punctuation, such as pausing after a period or speaking a sentence ending with a question mark as a question. However, in some cases, you may want additional control over how Alexa generates the speech from the text in your steps. For example, you may want a longer pause within the statement, or you may wish to a string of digits read back as a standard telephone number. That’s where SSML comes into play. It’s a markup language that provides a way to mark up text for the generation of synthetic speech. To use SSML, you need to construct your text steps using the supported SSML tags. Read more in our guide.

Q: “How to add a pause to Alexa’s speech?”

A: Adding a pause is one of the most popular use cases for SSML. You need to add an SSML construction in your text and specify the pause length. Here’s an example, which sets a pause for two seconds: <break time=”2s” />

Q: “How to make Alexa speak slower?”

A: To make Alexa speak slower, you need to use prosody SSML tag. Here’s an example, which slows Alexa’s speech by 10 percent: <prosody rate=”90%”>Welcome to Storyline!</prosody> Read more about prosody here.

Q: “Why some SSML tags do not work in the browser?”

A: Browser preview supports only some necessary tags like <break time=”2s” /> to make testing easier. If you want to test other SSML tags, then upload your skill to Alexa and check it on your local Echo device or in the Amazon’s console.

PUBLISHING

Q: “Can I just build a skill for myself, without publishing it to the store?”

A: Yes. When you connect your Amazon account to Storyline, it uploads your skill there. So it will be available only will work on Echo devices connected to your Amazon account.

Q: “What are the minimal requirements for publishing a skill?”

A: There are four things to keep in mind here:

  1. Make sure different user replies do not have the same synonyms.
  2. Make sure your help response ends with a question prompting the user to complete their request. Do not leave it empty because your skill will not pass the certification.
  3. Make sure your invocation name is as simple as possible. Ideally, it should be up to three words that perfectly describe what your skill does. You can read more here.
  4. Make sure your skill meets the Alexa policy guidelines. You cannot publish skills for famous trademarks.

Read more in our publishing guide.

Q: “How can I test my skill before publishing?” 

A: There is a feature called “Skills Beta Testing” in Amazon Developer Portal. It allows sharing your skill with any Alexa user by email. To use this feature, you need to fill in all the information required for publishing, even if don’t want to publish the skill publicly. Only after you fill in the info, you will be able to use Skills Beta Testing.

Q: How do I connect my skill to the SJSU Amazon Developer account in order to Beta Test it?

Once you click “Publish” on your skill, you will be connected to the Amazon Developer website. The login is buildthefutureofnews@gmail.com and the password is cali4926. Please see our separate page about how to fill out the required fields for amazon.

Q: “Do I need to resubmit my published skill for certification if I just update the description?” 

A: Yes.

Q: “Amazon rejected my skill. What should I do?”

A: First, go through the rejection email from Amazon. If there’s an apparent reason why they rejected your skill (like a bad name), then try to fix that. If you can’t find the issue, feel free to contact Storyline team for help. Read more here.

Q: “Amazon rejected by skill because of sample utterances. What should I do?”

A: To fix that, you need to go through your user replies and make sure that you have no repetitions in synonyms. Here’s an example. If you have two different user replies, “yes” and “okay,” and you have the same synonyms in both of them, you need to fix that. However, if you have “yes” and “yes” as user replies in different parts of the skill, you can have the same synonyms in them. If you can’t find the issue, feel free to contact Storyline team. We will help!

Q: “How do I submit my skill in all English languages? Is there a tutorial?” 

A: You can submit your skill in 5 different English-speaking regions in the Amazon Developer Portal. Each of them works as a separate copy of the skill, so we recommend to submit them all at once. Here’s a tutorial on that.

Q: “If I update my skill – are changes applied immediately to my skill?”

A: Yes. However, if you add, edit, or delete user replies in your skill, you have to click Upload to Alexa button to update the interaction model of your skill. The same for published skills — whenever you update user replies you have to submit it for certification again.

OTHER

Q: “Can I save the recording/transcript of what user said?”

A: No, Amazon doesn’t allow you to get the exact text of what user says.

Q: “Can I record user response and send it to my API?”

A: No.

Q: “Can I copy or export my intents/boxes/skill?”

A: No.

Q: “Upload to Alexa doesn’t work. What should I do?”

A: First, check if there’s a red notification in the top right when you click Upload to Alexa button and try to fix the error yourself. If there’s no luck, then feel free to contact Storyline team for help.

Q: “Does Storyline support Echo Show?”

A: Right now we don’t support Echo Show or Echo Spot, so it’s not possible to render cards for them. It will be available later this year.

Q: “Do I need to add one more block to exit the skill?”

A: No. The session automatically closes when the user receives the last message. You don’t have to add some “exit” block.

Q: “Does Storyline support Google Home?”

A: Right now we don’t support Google Home. We’re planning to add it later on, but right now we’re focused on Alexa only to make the experience perfect and then move on to other platforms like Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana.

Q: “Do you support slots?”

A: Yes, we support intent slots. Here is a tutorial on how to do that: https://intercom.help/storyline-42e744178f81/variables/introduction-to-variables

Q: “Can I save user input as a variable?”

A: Sure, here is a tutorial on how to do that: https://intercom.help/storyline-42e744178f81/variables/introduction-to-variables

Q: “Why can’t I see the code?”

A: We built Storyline from the ground up for non-tech people. That’s why we don’t provide an option for code export in your Storyline skills.