Beginnings

April 19, 2016, according to my Amazon order history, is when I bought my Echo. It was on sale for $30 off. Impulse buy.

My wife was less than happy about the purchase, “Why the hell did you buy that‽”

Think quick. Why did I buy it? “I’m going to write software for it.” Yea, that sounds like a logical reason.

At the time (and probably still now), the vast majority of Alexa skills (apps)  were written in node.js and running on AWS Lambda. If I was going to write skills, they’d be consuming content from WordPress, since that’s pretty much what I work with every day. There seemed little point to writing something on Lambda to consume content from another endpoint, the request would have to make two hops to get the data, and it had the potential of adding additional costs due to running a service on Lambda. For what it’s worth, lambda is pretty cheap and the first million requests are free every month.

In November was AWS re:Invent, Amazons huge yearly conference. They hosted a hackathon aptly named the AWS re:Invent Alexa Skills Contest.  The next four days were primarily spent in the hackathon room, bringing the idea of a WordPress + Alexa integration to fruition. It culminated in an all-nighter at the hotel, and the creation of a somewhat poorly shot demo video with the wrong orientation (vertical on an iPhone) at 5am to include with the contest submission before the deadline. If you really want, that video is still available on the hackster page for the submission. At the end of it all, we had a pretty stable proof of concept, supporting flash briefings, the ability to create fact and quote skills, and the ability to consume articles from a WordPress site.

VoiceWP won an award as a finalist in the competition, and Amazon hosted a wonderful party for the finalists on the last day of re:Invent.

Since then, development on VoiceWP has continued quite steadily. At Alley Interactive, VoiceWP is used as the starting point for our Alexa-related projects, most recently for People’s video flash briefing, which launched alongside the Echo Show. The open source community has been creating skills on top of the plugin as well. Through community discussions on the project’s Gitter, the plugin has become stronger through bugs being identified and features being requested. Users have contributed their improvements via pull requests to the github repo too.

After the better part of a year, it still feels like we’re getting started in a space that is still young and evolving constantly. As new capabilities are released within the Alexa API’s, we’re working to keep up with them so skill creators can utilize them in their own projects. To get involved, join the projects Gitter, or make a pull request on the Github repo!

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