I Got 99 Problems, But Alexa Ain’t (Usually) One

Today I’ve got some “how the Echo works” stuff and a bit of reader-contributed fun. First up, let’s take a look at why it’s not usually Alexa’s fault when the Echo won’t do what you want it to.


Alexa’s Usually Just The Messenger
Because Alexa is the piece people talk to when using an Echo, it’s understandable that people are prone to blame Alexa when she doesn’t do what the user was expecting. But most of the time, it’s not Alexa’s fault.



I created the “map” shown above (tap or click to view a larger version in a new tab or window) to demonstrate all the many steps, pieces of hardware, web services and relays involved when you make a simple request of Alexa: in this case, asking for current weather conditions in New York City. Every single box and arrow shown above is a potential point of failure, and when any of those other parts of the chain are broken Alexa will not be able to do what you want her to do. Any Alexa feature or function that involves fetching information from somewhere online, or from Amazon’s own servers, will involve a chain of steps and relays like this one.

But remember: Alexa’s usually just the messenger, most of those boxes you see in the diagram involve hardware and services that are not owned or operated by Amazon. It’s easy to forget that your request isn’t being processed right there in the black cylinder Alexa calls home because in most cases, when nothing goes wrong, all of these steps are typically completed in a matter of seconds (or less!).




When Alexa Doesn’t Do What You Want or Expect
Maybe your own WiFi network is currently bogged down with a large download task, or other heavy network traffic.

Maybe there’s a fault in your Internet Service Provider’s local, regional infrastructure network (e.g., the cables and servers) that’s taken several servers offline and clogged traffic to the remaining available servers.

Maybe the National Weather Service’s server communications through the specific channel in use by Alexa are temporarily offline for some reason.

Maybe a storm has knocked out network communications in the New York area, making it impossible for the National Weather Service piece to fetch current conditions.

Maybe a glitch caused the message to get “stuck” at some point in the loop, and Alexa’s 8-second timeout eventually kicked in and returned an error message.

And yes, in some cases the fault will lie with the Alexa Voice Service itself. Just don’t be too quick to assume Alexa’s the weak link, now that you know how many other players are on that team.


When something goes wrong, it’s often a temporary glitch that will resolve itself. Try again later. If the problem persists, report it in the General Feedback form of the Alexa app.



Alexa Has A Boyfriend
The image above and poem below were contributed by LME reader Marvin Mallon. They’re reprinted here with his permission and warm holiday wishes for Echo owners everywhere. Thanks, Marvin!

Alexa has a boyfriend.
His name is “Pringle”.
He’s a gift sent from heaven, or,
more likely, Kris Kringle.

She talks to him.
He doesn’t reply.
She just won’t give up.
She continues to try.

She’s sweet to him.
He seems such a drip.
She blows him a kiss.
He offers a chip.

Perhaps they will marry.
He’ll no longer be single.
A honeymoon awaits for
Mr. and Mrs. Pringle.


Remember not to miss Friday’s post: I’ll have gifts and goodies for you!


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