AlexaDev Tuesday: Alexa Blueprints & Skill Devs

Amazon’s big, new Alexa initiative, Alexa Blueprints, launched last week. At first glance it may seem like Alexa Blueprints and skill devs are natural enemies, that Blueprints may make custom skill dev a thing of the past. A closer look is more reassuring.




Blueprint Skills Are Private To Alexa Devices Of The Consumer Who Creates Them

This is probably the most important thing to know, in terms of how Blueprint skills differ from custom skills developers are building. Blueprint skills can only be accessed via the Alexa devices registered to the person who created the Blueprint skill.

The whole point of Blueprint is to allow consumers to make unique versions of common skill types (e.g., trivia, fact, quiz) in order to have Alexa deliver responses that are personalized to that consumer’s home, workplace, family or lifestyle. For example, with Blueprints the consumer can create a trivia quiz about an expectant mother to use as a baby shower game, a fact skill to give babysitters or pet sitters important information, or a story skill personalized with the consumer’s own kids’ names.

All of these are great use cases, but they’re only use cases of interest to the consumer who created them and a small circle of that consumer’s family, friends, or service providers.


Blueprint Skills Are Created By Filling In Blanks In Online Template Forms, There’s No Coding

This means there are definite limitations on what types of Blueprint skills can be created, and what those skills can do. Basically, the consumer chooses a type of skill and then fills in blanks to tell Alexa which utterances to respond to, and how to respond to them. The Alexa sound effects library is also being made available for Blueprint skills, so consumers can add audio clips by selecting them from a picklist.

Alexa Skill Blueprints available at launch include:

At Home
Custom Q&A: Customize responses to your questions
Houseguest: Make your guests feel at home with quick access to important info
Babysitter: Help your sitter find things, remember steps and get important info
Pet Sitter: Help your pet sitter care for your favorite animal

Fun & Games
Family Jokes: Create a list of your favorite jokes for when you need a laugh
Trivia: Create your own multiple choice trivia game on any topic
Inspirations: Curate a list of your favorite inspirational quotes
Family Trivia: Play together and brush up on family history
Bachelorette Party: Play to find out how well the bride’s friends know her
Birthday Trivia: Play to see who knows the birthday girl or boy best
Burns: Roast your friends and family with lighthearted burns
Compliments: Flatter your favorites with a list of custom compliments
Double Trouble: Find out which couple knows each other best with this customizable game
First Letter: Play a game of categories starting with a certain letter

Adventure: Write an adventure story where your child is the hero
Fairy Tale: Customize an interactive prince and princess-themed tale
Sci-Fi: Create an interactive story with a far-out theme
Fable: Create a short narrative with a moral of the story

Learning & Knowledge
Flash Cards: Study, test yourself, and master any subject by voice
Facts: Keep a list of facts on your favorite topic, all in one place
Quiz: Challenge yourself and others with a customizable quiz


Skill Devs Aren’t Actually In Competition With Blueprints

Skill devs create skills for release to the general public, consumers create Blueprint skills for their personal use. Blueprint skills aren’t publicly published to the skill store the way other skills are, so they aren’t even visible to other consumers when they browse the skill store or Alexa app.

However, certain custom skills’ functionality may now have been usurped by Blueprints. Up till now, providing a custom, personalized response to an individual consumer’s Alexa devices meant creating a skill that allowed for user login and/or a back-end database to keep separate records for each consumer.

That precise use case is what Blueprints aims to address, but even then, for many (if not most) consumers it will be more convenient to keep using a dev-created skill they’re already familiar with than to dig into Blueprints and create their own version.


Are Consumers Excited About Blueprints?

Amazon doesn’t share its usage statistics for any of its service offerings, so I can’t say for certain how many intrepid souls have tried their hand at creating Blueprint skills so far. What I can say is that among consumers who visit this site, post to Alexa user social media groups or discussion boards, the response seems underwhelming overall.

The more tech-savvy consumers are interested in giving Blueprints a try, though not all of them will find a Blueprint to suit their particular skill concept. Less tech-savvy consumers seem pretty turned off to the whole thing, and seem to (incorrectly) assume that programming must be involved.

Considering that Alexa devices are conveniences, it makes sense that the inconvenience of creating a custom skill via Blueprints won’t appeal to a very broad swath of Alexa users. Time will tell, and this may be one of those things that will only take off in months to come as more people use and talk about it.


Beating Blueprints

Even though devs’ skills are not in direct competition with Blueprint skills in most cases, this is definitely a time to think about upping your skill game in ways that Blueprint skills can’t compete with.

For example, while the Alexa sound effects library is large it’s still limited, and over time hearing the same clips in both Blueprint and 3P developer skills can start to seem repetitive to the consumer. Having your own, different library of sounds or delivering audio files created exclusively for use by your skill offers something consumers won’t find in a Blueprint skill, and won’t have already heard many times before.

The types of skill templates utilized by Blueprints aren’t rendered useless to 3P devs, either. Consider the example of the Blueprint trivia quiz about an expectant mother, intended for use as a baby shower game. Where a Blueprint skill drills down to serve a very specific, small audience, 3P skills need to take a more expansive approach, to appeal to the widest possible audience. A 3P trivia quiz skill about mothers in the English royal family is essentially the same thing, but it will be accessible to the general public and will have a much wider appeal.

Finally, there are plenty of skill types that aren’t part of the Blueprints program at all. For example, skills that employ Audio Player, Display Templates or Video Player. There are still plenty of skill areas to explore, if you’re looking for new opportunities.


Amazon’s plans for Blueprint may expand if they see a great deal of Blueprint interest and usage, but at launch Blueprint skills don’t pose much competition to 3P custom skills.

Click here to visit the Blueprints portal.