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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Wish List: Easier Alexa Skills

I have a weather station on my roof. I have an Amazon Echo in my house. I should be able to get these two things together, somehow, right? “Alexa, what’s the temperature at my house?” is something I’d like to ask.

But here’s the thing: Right now it’s extremely hard to build any add-ons to Alexa unless you’re an accomplished developer, which I’m not. You have to set up a web service—ideally via Amazon’s AWS Lambda—and jump through a whole lot of hoops, no matter how simple your add-on “skill” is.

So here’s a rare Six Colors Wish List item that’s not for Apple, but for Amazon: Wouldn’t it be nice if Echo users could fairly easily connect data from web services to the service? My Weather Station offers the current outdoor temperature in a text file that’s accessible via the web, but there’s no way for me to configure the Echo to respond to a specific voice command by reading the contents of that web address out loud.

Services like IFTTT offer Alexa integration, but it’s one-way — I can give Alexa a command, and it will trigger an IFTTT action. But grabbing information from the Internet and then speaking it to me? That’s another trick altogether.

So that’s what I want. I want a tool that will let me build simple Alexa skills, using content pulled from the Web. The more parsing that Amazon can provide, the better. I realize that most users won’t want a feature like this, but one of the joys of using cutting-edge technology like this is being able to extend its capabilities in interesting ways. Amazon should allow users to build custom responses in some way that doesn’t require setting up an AWS server and building a complete web app.

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