Thirty-nine million Americans now own a smart speaker device, but the voice app ecosystem is still developing. While Alexa today has over 25,000 skills available, a number of companies haven’t yet built a skill for the platform, or offer only a very basic skill that doesn’t run that well. That’s where the startup Storyline comes in. The company is offering an easy to utilize, drag-and-drop visual interface for building Amazon Alexa skills that doesn’t require you to have knowledge of coding.
As the company describes it, they’re constructing the “Weebly for voice apps”- a reference to the drag-and-drop website building platform that’s now a popular route for non-developers to generate websites without code.
Storyline was co-founded in September 2017 by Vasili Shynkarenka( CEO) and Maksim Abramchuk( CTO ). Hailing from Belarus, the two has hitherto operate a software development bureau that built chat-based applications, including chatbots and voice apps, for their clients.
Their work resulted them to be submitted with Storyline, explains Vasili.
“We realized there was this big struggle with creating conversational apps, ” he says. “We became aware that creative people and content inventors are not really good at writing code. That was the major insight.”
The company is targeting brands, businesses and individuals who want to reach their clients- or, in the case of publishers, their readers- using a voice platform like Alexa, and later, Google Home.
The software itself is designed to be very simple, and can be used to create either a custom skill or a Flash Briefing.
For the most basic skill, it only takes five to seven minutes , notes Vasili.
To get started with Storyline, you sign up for an account, then click which type of skill you want to build- either a Flash Briefing or custom ability. You then offer some basic information like the skill’s name and speech, and it launches into a canvas where you can begin creating the skill’s conversational workflow.
Here, you’ll see a block you click on and customize by entering in your own text. This “wouldve been” first thing your voice app says when launched, like “Hello, welcome to…” followed by the app’s name, for example.
You edit this and other blocks of text in the panel on the left side of the screen, while Storyline presents a visual overview of the conversation flow on the right.
In the editing panel, you are still click on other buttons to add more voice interactions- like other questions the skill will ask, user replies, and Alexa’s reply to those.
Each of these items is connected to one of the text blocks on the main screen, as a flow chart of sorts. You can also configure how the skill must be held accountable if the user says something unexpected.
When you’re finished, you can test the ability in a browser by clicking “Play.” That style, you can hear how the skill sounds and test various user responses.
Once satisfied that your skill is ready to go, you click the “Deploy” button to publish. This redirects you to Amazon where you sign in with your Amazon account and publish.( If you don’t have an Amazon Developer account, Storyline will guide you to create one .)
This sort of visual skill developing system may be easier to manage for simpler skills that have a limited number of questions and replies, but the startup says that even more advanced abilities have been constructed utilizing its service.
It was also used by two of the finalists in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids.
Since launching the first version of Storyline in October 2017, some 3,000 people have signed up for an account, and have created roughly the same number of abilities. Around 200 of those have gone live to Amazon’s Skill Store.
Storyline isn’t the only company focused on helping business build voice apps without code these days, however.
For example, Sayspringlets designers create voice-enabled apps without code, as well, but instead of was published ability directly, it’s meant to be the first step in the voice app creation process. It’s where designers can flesh out how a ability should work before handing off the coding to a development team.
Vasili says this is a big differentiator between the two companies.
“Prototyping tools are great to play with and explain ideas, but it’s super hard to retain users by being a prototyping tool- because they use the tool to prototype and then that’s it, ” he explains. With Storyline, customers will stay throughout the process of launching and iterating upon their voice app, he states. “We can use data from when the skill is published to improve the design, ” notes Vasili.