CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Smart Home

Amazon wants Alexa to read blog posts and broadcast church sermons

Amazon is using templates to help Alexa skills creators connect with an audience, no coding needed.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Amazon's Alexa Skills Blueprints are free online templates that let you create custom Alexa tricks without needing to code. Now, the online retailer is giving those blueprints some new tricks of their own.

The newest Skill Blueprints, announced in a blog post Wednesday, are "built specifically for content creators, bloggers, and organizations so they can reach anyone with an Alexa-enabled device." Skills created with any of Amazon's blueprints can now be submitted to Amazon for certification and publication in the Alexa app's Skills Store in the US.

"Keep your skill personal to Alexa-enabled devices associated with your Amazon account, share it with friends and family, or publish it so anyone can discover, use and review your skill," Amazon says.

That open approach might help bolster the number of Alexa skills available in the Alexa app. Amazon claims that there's now more than 80,000 of them -- up from 70,000 just a month ago -- but that's still a drop in the bucket compared with the number of apps available to Android and iOS users (about 2 million each) and all the apps in Amazon's mobile app store (about 450,000). Those numbers might seem unrealistic or daunting for Alexa, but they might also hint at the sort of potential Amazon sees for its popular voice platform.

"Getting started is as simple as filling in the blanks," Amazon's blog concludes. "We can't wait to see what you create."

Alexa, take me to church

Among the new skill templates are new "University" and "Spiritual Talks" blueprints designed to let educational and religious institutions broadcast lectures and sermons via people's Echo speakers. Institutions can enter the URL of an audio feed into the blueprint along with custom welcome and exit messages. From there, anyone who enables the skill can use it to access the latest recorded audio in the feed or to listen to live broadcasts.

amazon-echo-promo-pic-2.jpg

Amazon is making it easier than ever to upload audio content for daily flash briefings.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Another new tool: A "Blog" blueprint for skills that lets Alexa read blog posts out loud on request. Bloggers will need to enable the Amazon AI plug-in for WordPress and provide the blueprint with an RSS feed. Once they do, Amazon's text-to-speech engine will convert their posts into audio that Alexa can read aloud.

Amazon is also announcing a new Flash Briefing blueprint. It will streamline the process of making an audio feed that you can incorporate into daily Alexa news rundowns. Creators can either upload audio or enter the URL of an existing audio feed into the blueprint, or they can record audio live directly from the blueprint interface. From there, they're free to publish their content straight to the Skills Store so Alexa users can find it and add it to their personalized Flash Briefings. 

Like with other skills, blueprint-guided or otherwise, these submissions to the Skills Store are subject to Amazon's certification process for quality assurance and adherence to Amazon's content standards and security requirements.

Amazon seems particularly focused on encouraging outside developers to find new ways of putting Alexa's voice platform to use -- and to profit from it, too. The first heading of today's blog post reads, "Businesses, Brands, and Organizations Can Now Use Blueprints to Reach Customers in New Ways." Less than a month ago, Amazon introduced new tools designed to help creators add in-skill purchases to their Alexa skills

The company appears to be saying, "we've made this easy enough for anyone to do it." And given Alexa's popularity, it seems like a safe bet that we'll see lots of new names, both big and small, give it a shot in 2019.

What Alexa will tell us in 2019: The minds behind Amazon's virtual assistant tell CNET where they want to head next

CES 2019: See all of CNET's coverage of the year's biggest tech show.