Alexa and the Matter of Cat Facts

cat facts facts 1400 Alexa and the Matter of Cat Facts

On June 1st, 2020 I visited the Alexa Skills store and did a search for “cat facts”.  The result of that search yielded an astonishing 15 pages of Alexa Skills. With an average of 16 skills per page this means my search resulted in finding approximately 240 related to “cat facts”. How could this be? I had to know more, so I decided to research what was behind so many Skills related to the topic of facts about cats.

I began by taking a closer look through the results from my search for “cat facts”. I noticed that there were some Skills that had absolutely nothing to do with cats. I assume these were cases of working the keyword game to improve discoverability (successful I suppose). Since these were not actually cat fact Skills I removed them from the master list. Next, I removed more generalized Skills such as Animal Facts, Pet Facts, and the like, opting to narrow my research to only cat specific Skills. Finally, I eliminated any Skill from my search which, although feline-centric, did not have the primary purpose of providing facts about cats.

After weeding out roughly 15% of my original search, what remained was  198 Skills. Almost 200 Alexa Skills whose primary purpose, and in most cases only purpose, was to provide facts about cats. Who would have suspected that the demand for facts about cats was so pervasive.

Of those 198 Skills devoted to cat facts, 112 of them were named Cat Facts. So 58% of all the Skills devoted to the same topic and functionality share the same name. However, the redundancy did not stop at the Skill’s name …

This is only a sample of instances where the identical image was used for different Alexa Skills. The last icon (bottom right) is truly puzzling, possibly a cat buried in snow?

In addition to a Skill name, as you can see from the images above, many of the cat fact Skills use the identical image for their icon. While it may appear that I reposted the same Skill multiple times. Look closer, because some share the same title as well as the icon, the only way to distinguish them is by looking at their description, or rating if they have one. Note, this is only a small sampling, amongst the many cat fact Skills there are many who share a name and/icon.

Another commonality that was uncovered during my research was that all the Skills we tested, and we tested a lot more than you’d think, would give you a single fact and then quit. There were two we tested that did not even open.

Birth of a Skill

As I began compiling data about cat fact Skills, as a Voice developer, it struck me that it would be appropriate to deliver all this information in its own Alexa Skill. With that I started work on what was to become Facts on Cat Facts, the definitive resource for facts about cat fact Skills. I mean, if there are almost 200 Skills devoted to cat facts, the cat fact community must be eager to learn more about them, right? The result of my research is the Facts on Cat Facts Skill.

Facts on Cat Facts is a pretty traditional fact skill, providing over twenty facts about the 198 cat fact Skills found in the Alexa store. As a little bonus I added a “chat with a cat” feature.In Conclusion

In Conclusion

If you made it this far into this post, you are probably wondering why I would put time into creating a Skill that provides facts about cat fact Skills, and why would I write an article about it.

On a light-hearted level, Facts on Cat Facts, provides actual data on the over-abundance of cat fact skills. From a development stand-point, I wanted to build a solid, well rounded Skill. It is by no means groundbreaking but hopefully reflects some element of effort. However, on a deeper level, it was developed to bring light to the current state of Alexa Skills and Skill development, hopefully sparking some thought and igniting some discussion on the matter. 

While it may sound self-serving, I really encourage you to give Facts on Cat Facts a try, no offense if you want to disable it once you are done. I think it exposes some issues important for anyone concerned with the Alexa Skills store thriving as a sustainable and professional marketplace.

It is reasonable to assume that many skills appearing in the Skill store were exercises to learn the platform and the process. People need to be able to practice and learn. I don’t want this to be seen as attacking any specific developer. Admittedly, my very first skill was a relatively simple fact skill. However, I took a significant amount of time writing content, implementing functionality, and testing before I felt it was worthy of publishing. As a new developer, while I was not sure, I assumed that this would at the very least be a requirement to pass certification. While I know it is the nature of development that there will always be flaws, I do like to think I have some personal standards of what is acceptable.

In 2016, Apple increased their standards for submissions to their iTunes store, and began removing outdated apps in order to give customers the ability to more easily discover high-quality apps. And while it made sense at the beginning for Amazon to push hard to populate the skill store and recruit developers, it might be time to follow Apple’s lead and initiate some house cleaning. 

I want to emphasize, that at its core, this project and article is not intended to be malicious or meant to single anyone out. I respect the courage of creatives to release their work publicly and the criticism it exposes them too. I like to think my intention was to start a discussion in the Voice community. initiated as a call to action to try and rally for improvements to skill development and standards.

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