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Bots and AI: Mastering Invocation Names for Alexa Skills

November 2, 2017 Published by

The invocation name you choose for an Alexa skill can have a huge impact on the usability of your voice app. In this video, CEO of The Bot Platform Syd Lawrence shares his own frustrations with the naming convention for Alexa apps. Opearlo Co-Founder Oscar Merry then offers one naming technique that will make your app much more engaging.

Watch the video of their conversation here, or scroll below the video to read the full transcript.

Mastering Invocation Names for Alexa Skills (Full Transcript)

Syd Lawrence (CEO & Co-Founder of The Bot Platform): I’ve got a question for Oscar. Oscar, seeing as you’ve probably got more experience than I do building with that lady in the corner.

Sam Machin (Nexmo Developer Advocate & Alexa Champion): Oh, she’s off.

Syd: Mine will go off. When do you think they’re gonna stop having to do the whole, “Tell X to do Y”? So at Christmas, me and my girlfriend wanted to make a skill so that we would walk into the house and we would say, “Alexa, make Christmas happen.” At which point, the Christmas tree lights would turn on, the main lights would dim down, and Mariah Carey would start playing on the speakers. Now ultimately, the only way we could get that to work was to name an app, “The Elves”. And so then it was, “Alexa, tell ‘The Elves’ to make Christmas happen.”

That I found super frustrating. Now hopefully, they’ve either fixed it soon or they’re going to. What’s your opinion on that, Oscar?

Oscar Merry (Co-Founder & CTO at Opearlo): Yes. So it’s a really interesting point and it’s one that we actually think about a lot. So the choosing the invocation name for your skill is a massive, massive decision when you’re building a voice app for Alexa, precisely for that reason. Because it’s an additional barrier for people to actually use your voice app.

“choosing the invocation name for your skill is a massive, massive decision when you’re building a voice app for Alexa”

For one, people don’t have the icon on the mobile app to remember where to go to actually use your app. They need to actually remember the invocation names. So one of the things it has to do is be memorable and do what it says on the tin. Having said that, you don’t want to have something that is too clunky and causes the frustration that you’ve just described.

One of the things we often look at which works really well is if you can try and hide the invocation name from the user. So that when they actually open up the skill, they don’t feel like they’re using a custom app. They feel like the functionality is actually native.

So in the example you described around Christmas, you could’ve just maybe called the skill, “Make Christmas happen” as the invocation name. So, therefore, you just say, “Alexa, make Christmas happen.” And from the user’s point of view, it doesn’t even feel like they’re using a custom app. It feels like the native functionality. And Amazon will let you do that as long as you go within the invocation guidelines.

So that’s one clever thing you can do. And actually, what we’ve seen is that skills that do that get a lot more usage. But then, obviously, if you’re trying to hide the invocation name and you’re calling your skill, “Make Christmas happen,” then you’re limiting yourself in other areas because if you wanna expand the feature set, then suddenly it doesn’t make sense. Well, that’s one thing you can do.

“what we’ve seen is that skills that [hide the invocation name from the user] get a lot more usage”

And what we also find is that… what we hear some people are doing is instead of trying to fit all of your functionality into one particular voice app, you could maybe build five different ones that are all from the same app. But they each have a different invocation name that’s actually hidden for that particular use case. So that’s one thing you can do.

Having said that, I do think that the companies that build the actual digital assistants are aware of this problem. And I think eventually we will see ways that people won’t have to use the invocation name. So maybe they’ll remove them entirely and then they, kind of, depending on what the user’s request was, they say, “Would you like me to do that from this skill?” So I do think eventually there’ll be better solutions. But for now, yeah, trying to hide the invocation name is a great way to go.

[Editor’s Note: Watch the full one-hour discussion on the state of AI bot technology.]

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