Storyline allows content creators of any experience level to build Alexa skills without writing a single line of code. And now, by integrating the Alexa Skills Management API (SMAPI) into Storyline, users can create, test, publish, and update their skills, without ever leaving Storyline’s drag-and-drop interface.
“Our hypothesis was that good content creators aren’t always technical, and technical people aren’t great at content,” says Vasili Shynkarenka, co-founder of Storyline. “Storyline addresses that problem by letting writers focus on the conversation without worrying about the code behind it.”
As proof of the power of Storyline’s conversation editor, Shynkarenka points to Adva Levin, who built her entire Kids Court skill—the Grand Prize winner of the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids—using Storyline. The Skill Management API integration lets Levin manage her skill and update its content, all in the same interface.
“Thanks to the Skill Management API, the latest release of Storyline does more than enable a non-developer to build engaging Alexa skills like Kids Court,” says Shynkarenka. “It also lets them deploy, test, manage, and update its content, all without touching the code or leaving Storyline.”
Separating Conversation and Code
Before Shynkarenka and Storyline co-founder Maksim Abramchuk moved from Belarus to the Bay Area in late 2017, they’d worked on chat- and voice-based applications for large European clients. While the first Amazon Echo was introduced barely three years ago, the two aren’t surprised at how quickly voice technology has taken off.
That’s why they focused their business on building Alexa skills. But they soon noted an inefficient process that existed between the content writers and the developers. Shynkarenka would design a conversation, but then hand it off to a developer to build the actual skill. Thus, began an iterative back-and-forth cycle that added unnecessary churn to the skill-building process.
“As a creative person, I could envision more complex interactions, write engaging dialog, and create interesting sound effects,” says Shynkarenka. “But when it came down to actually building an Alexa skill, I couldn’t do it because I don't know how to code. That was really frustrating to me and basically led to the idea of Storyline.”
Using Storyline’s drag-and-drop interface, anyone can create a custom skill or flash briefing skill. Users start with a basic template—one message and the intents for “help” and “stop”—then they can add intents, messages, and conditional logic to branch the conversation and handle various exceptions. You can play your voice user interactions right in the browser and refine the way they sound and “feel.” And you can edit the content as much as you like.
More Than a Conversation Editor, SMAPI Brings True Magic to Storyline
As soon as Storyline launched, its users, who are mostly content creators who don’t have development backgrounds, began asking for help deploying their new conversation skills to Alexa. When Amazon opened up its Skill Management API to developers, the Storyline team saw an opportunity to make the tool more than a conversation editor. The Skill Management API is a set of APIs that tool builders like Storyline can use to programmatically create, test, deploy, and manage Alexa skill projects and their related resources like content and interaction models.
“Integrating the Skill Management API into Storyline let us give our users what they were asking for,” says Shynkarenka. “The APIs allow our users to deploy and publish their skills on Alexa without coding or leaving our platform.”
Now, when you create a skill in Storyline, the tool calls the Skill Management API to create a new skill project in your Amazon developer account. After designing your conversation graphically, you click “Upload to Alexa” to transform it into a voice interaction model, after which Storyline calls another Skill Management API method to upload the model. And according to Shynkarenka, clicking the “Publish” button will use the Skill Management API to make publishing a one-click operation, too.
“It’s a huge time saver for our users. They simply click a button to upload and start testing the skill,” says Shynkarenka. “When I watch someone create an Alexa skill in Storyline for the first time, the experience is truly magical. The Skill Management API basically gives us this magic.”
Making Code-Free Skill Development Even More Powerful
Storyline allows writers to create complex conversational models and execute them without coding. It abstracts the conversation flow and content creation away from programming, then generates the voice user interface (VUI) and code behind the scenes. But with the Skill Management API integration, Storyline now makes end-to-end skill management nearly automatic.
“The Skill Management API is the backbone that powers the tool,” says Shynkarenka. “We let writers focus on the content, but all the interfaces to create, update, publish, and manage the skill use the Skill Management API.”
Shynkarenka says Storyline’s Skill Management API integration allows authors to refresh skill content in real time, without having to redeploy or recertify the skill. Whether it’s updating commonly used responses or adding Easter egg surprises, the writer can keep their users delighted with fresh and unexpected new content.
Adva Levin and Kids Court is one of Shynkarenka’s favorite examples of this. Not only was Kids Court Levin’s first skill, but it was built entirely in Storyline. Levin uses Storyline to update the skill’s greeting messages every day. That would be nearly impossible if she had to recertify the skill each time.
“The most exciting part is that it proves you don’t have to be a developer to build a complex, engaging skill. And by incorporating the Skill Management API into Storyline, you don’t have to leave our platform to submit or publish an Alexa skill. All you need to have is a good idea and to execute on that idea.”
Build a New Skill, Earn Developer Perks
Bring your big idea to life with Alexa and earn perks through our tiered rewards system. US developers, publish a skill in May and earn an Alexa developer backpack. If 1,000 customers use your skill in its first 30 days in the Alexa Skills Store, you will also earn a free Echo Plus to help you make Alexa even smarter. If you're not in the US, check out our promotions in the UK, Germany, and India. Learn more about our promotion and start building today.
Source: Alexa Developer Blog