My preference goes to Google.
I have a personal preference for working on tables. It provides better visualization of the information: it makes it easier to navigate the data, stop and pick up the project again. And spot mistakes and misspellings, which will be helpful in the testing phase.
My tip: if you are to build the same flashcards for both Alexa and Google, start with Google. It will be easier to copy-paste from your Google Sheet to the Alexa Blueprint interface than the other way round.
Alexa does not offer a way to test the skill before deployment. This is understandable considering the simple, templatized nature of the whole skill and the fact that you can edit it anytime after creating it.
However, I like that Google gives the option to properly test the action. I found the simulator within the browser very convenient to get a sense of how the sentences would sound and much quicker than having to go for a round of questions with the smart speaker, then go back to my interface to improve my content.
The first tests on my Google Home were very satisfying. For some reason, the first interactions with my Echo Dot were a bit of a disaster… I got tons of “Sorry, I didn’t understand”, both when starting the skill and answering questions. The conversation would abruptly end with an out-of-the-blue “okay bye”. The experience has improved over time and is now working properly, but, as testing it, it was a bit frustrating at first.
I will set apart the troubles I had to publish my skill because my Blueprint account and my Amazon account were not in the same country. This is a specific issue most users won’t run into and the Amazon support team was very friendly and helpful in fixing it (as all my experiences with Amazon customer service).
Here are the 3 criteria my preference for Google is based on:
– Creating the icon has pluses and minuses on both sides. If you are to use an image as I did, Google allows you to resize it to make it fit the icon while Alexa Blueprint won’t let you upload anything but an already neat square image. But if you want to create something from scratch, then Alexa Blueprint has a nice interface that allows you to combine their bank of icons with colors.
Yet I feel that using an image is more appealing for users than a basic icon.
I will grant 0.5 points to Google for that.
I will give 0.5 points to Alexa for this. Breaking even.
– Last but not least, Google allows deploying to a large range of countries when Amazon restricted the deployment of my skill to the US. Why would users in Antartica be deprived of the opportunity of learning their American geography?
This was the match point.
None of the two is perfect.
Both are quite repetitive. On Google, I chose Mr. Montgomery’s personality and I quickly grew tired of his “okay, pokey, artichoke”. Alexa tries a bit less hard, making repetitions a bit less irritating, but enough to make its coaxing “you’re quite the brain” every couple of questions quickly become annoying.
Both can’t properly manage the ask for hints: the template only allows for one hint. However, both voice assistants keep offering hints after having given the one away and go on repeating the same one. It would be great for them to manage the slot and be able to tell the user they already got their hint and cannot ask for more. It bothers me but I did not find any way to tweak the system to solve this. I sent feedback to Google about it, maybe the teams behind this flashcard template will pick it up and fix it.
What makes me prefer Google to Alexa here are these 2 things:
- The flow of the quiz: While Alexa seems to go for an endless number of questions and stop suddenly, Google allows customizing the number of questions asked. I find it more enjoyable to have a rather short number of questions (I set it on 5) and choose to go for a second round or not, than dragging lots of questions and facing an abrupt end to the quiz. I appreciate Alexa can be asked for the score at any time, but here again, the way questions are fired make it very awkward to interrupt to know how good/bad I am doing.
- I enjoy the ability Google gives to add extra info after each answer. To me, that makes the conversation more enjoyable and educational. Without this, I would not know that Alaska accounts for almost 20% of the land of the USA but only for 0.2% of the population and that residents of Indiana are called Hosiers.
I still have one last grudge against Alexa: what is this horrible, screechy sound that hurts my ears each time the skill starts?
The industry seems to agree that making sure users get to know about your skill is one of the current challenges.
Amazon is trying to make this easier using its ability to recommend content to users. I liked that the proactive proposal to play with the “SAT Word of the Day” skill based on my liking for American States Flashcards. Obviously, only popular, highly rated skills get this type of promotion. Nevertheless, it is a great way to engage users with more content.
Even though there is not much leverage for improvement on these templatized conversations, it is a pity I cannot get any data on the use of my American States Flashcards on Alexa. Amazon reserves analytics for real developers…
Google is a bit more generous on this and shares basic metrics:
- the number of active and returning users
- the number and length of conversations
- the number of messages
- the abort rate
It looks like I am the only user of this Action for now.
Even though my overall winner is Google, allowing non-tech users to generate their personalized voice content is a very smart move from both voice assistants giants.
As a marketing person, I see it as a future-proof strategy. The battle for putting the devices in each home hit the headlines earlier this year, with Google’s massive giveaways at sports events and with partner charities, and Amazon slashing prices on the Echo Dot. But this is not enough: they are of no use if they sit idle on shelves and bedside tables, happy owners must then use them. Content is key for fostering use, which is why Amazon has been boasting about the 100,000 skills available on Alexa.
By giving the keys to make the most of their devices and create actions to all their users’ segments, Google and Amazon have embedded early on in voice tech the mechanism that made social networks so pervasive in our life: user-generated content for a personalized experience that leads to platform adoption and loyalty, and behind the scenes, more content and interactions on which to train data to oil the mechanism even better.
As a non-tech user, I can only rejoice about this effort to democratize voice technology beyond the developer’s community and allow broader, more inclusive access to cutting-edge conversational capabilities.
There is such tremendous potential for use cases for codeless templates. Just think of what it could change in the classroom: it would complement perfectly traditional paper flashcards with a new interactive and tailored medium to train students’ brains with active recall.
Any student, parent or teacher can use these codeless templates with the Spanish vocabulary list for the week, or the key World War II dates, or the atomic numbers of the elements of the Periodic Table…
I bet I would know my multiplication table better if I had practiced with my voice assistant when I was 6 (maybe it is actually not too late…)
It will be interesting to monitor the next industry reports and see how content generated by the average, non-developer user moves the current competitive landscape.