Amazon rejects AI2’s Alexa skill voice-search engine. Will it build one? – TechCrunch
Surprisingly, Amazon Alexa doesnâ€™t have a good way to search for Alexa skills by voice. You canâ€™t say that you want to play word games, need a skill to check airport security wait times, or feel like meditating. Alexa doesnâ€™t know what to tell you.
Amazon released its own â€œSkill Finderâ€ skill last year, but itâ€™s a bare-bones experience that can only read off the most popular apps in certain vague categories, or list the top or newest Alexa skills. You canâ€™t ask it for a skill with a specific use case or functionality.
So the Allen Institute For Artificial Intelligence figured itâ€™d build a full-fledged voice keyword search engine for Alexa skills. Funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, AI2 is one of the largest not-for-profit AI institutes in the world.
AI2â€™s Alexa â€œSkill Searchâ€ allows people to simply say what they want to do, and it finds them matching skills. So you could say â€œI want to buy flowersâ€ or â€œI want to check my flight statusâ€ or any of the examples above, and it will read you the descriptions of other Alexa skills that can help until you find one you want to enable. You can hear how it works below:
But when AI2 submitted the Skill Search engine to the Alexa platform, Amazon rejected it, citing that â€œWe donâ€™t allow skills that recommend skills to customers at this time. We will contact you if this feature becomes available.â€ TechCrunch asked Amazon for clarification, and the company only responded that â€œwe donâ€™t have anything to share outside our policy page (4a)â€, referring to a rule barring any skill that â€œOffers a separate skill store or recommends other skills.â€
It would seem that having this kind of skill search engine would be advantageous to Amazon. It provides a discovery opportunity for skill developers looking to get more users, and highlighting the breadth of skills could make Alexa look more attractive compared to alternatives like Google Home that donâ€™t have as well established of an ecosystem.
It all begs the question of whether Amazon is preparing a much more powerful skill search engine of its own. Banning competitors ahead of such a launch could ensure greater traction for Amazonâ€™s version, which would give it more control over the Alexa developer landscape.
Some might consider this unfair, but itâ€™s pretty standard procedure in tech, and since the policy was clearly spelled out before AI2 submitted its search engine, Amazon isnâ€™t pulling the rug out from anyone. Other platforms like Facebook frequently bar developers from replicating their own functionality or cut off developers who become a competitive threat. For example, Facebook blocked social graph access to chat competitor Voxer, and Live video access to filter app Prisma.
Wherever thereâ€™s search and discovery, there are opportunities for sponsored search results and placement, which could give Amazon another revenue stream from Alexa. Now itâ€™s up to Amazon to build what it wonâ€™t let other developers provide.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch
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