By 2036, Earth’s climate will reach a point of no return, denying young people’s rights to a liveable planet. Our team was inspired by our shared concern for the environment. We, Mark, Bill, Nick, and myself, Chris, are a diverse group of individuals spanning 5,000 miles of distance and nearly six decades of age. Our desire to trigger a lasting change on our planet brought us together to build something that could help us to make an impact. The use of the Amazon Alexa platform allows us to promote the skill to many countries, allowing Saving our Planet to make a difference on a global scale.

This skill engages everyone, young and old, in authentic conversation about the environment, and what can be done to protect it. Through this skill, younger users can take part in a computer generated story where they will be compelled to take action to save our planet. They can also engage in the most recent tweets from several dynamic twitter accounts that discuss environmental issues. In addition to these, they can learn where their electricity comes from and how much electricity each of their appliances use. Lastly, if they just aren’t getting it, this skill will give them a fun “punishment” for not being environmentally-conscious

We used Storyline to build this skill. In addition to this, since no two members of our team are from the same region, we relied heavily on web-based communication to conceptualize, build and refine our skill. Furthermore, we were able to add Twitter integrations into our skill, as well as make use of the Google Sheets API.

As noted above, one of our biggest challenges was communication. We span the globe, and even getting everyone online at the same time was a bit of a challenge. We worked together to plan out when we’d each be working on major components of our skill, to avoid overlapping one another or causing technical issues.

Another challenge that often comes up in group projects, and ours was no exception, is dealing with conflict or disagreement among team members. There were several situations where, through the course of our discussions, there was disagreement regarding which components should be highlighted, and how we should bring each of them together. In addition, little things like what we would use for a skill icon led to some conflict. Fortunately, we recognized that we are all here to do our best, and that we are better as a team. We also noticed that through our discussions and sharing of perspectives, we ended up with higher quality results in comparison to what we might have achieved as individuals.

For new technology such as Alexa skills, we are learning that this a very valuable aspect of developing high quality and engaging content. Lastly, we ran into some technical challenges that affected a few of our skill components. One related to the “story time” portion of our skill. This story concept allows for literally trillions of story possibilities, and used nested variables to make it all possible. When this feature stopped behaving properly, there were doubts that we’d be able to retain this portion. This forced us to develop alternative technical strategies for implementing the story, as we are pushing the limits of the software and how we deliver content. Fortunately, persistence on the part of our team paid off, and our Eco-Story Time was completed.

We are proud of the way that we have worked together. It was not always easy, and required a variety of tools (Storyline, Google Docs, Facebook Chat, etc.) but we did it!

We are also proud of the outcome of our collective abilities. This is a pretty advanced skill with so much information contained within it. It includes over 120 intents, meaning this is the largest skill any of us have created.

Lastly, we are especially pleased with how conversational this skill is. All the user is asked is "How can I help you?" and as a result of all of the available intents, and the alternate variations for each, it allows quick and easy entry into any part of the skill.

We learned that pooling our resources and putting something together as a team can be a really valuable and rewarding experience. We also learned some dos and don'ts regarding collaborative skill building with Storyline.

We also discovered how to structure our skill as a whole - we decided to have every intent available as soon as the user opens the skill, meaning they can get the information required in just one utterance - for example, Alexa, ask Saving our Planet how much it costs in electricity to make a tea. The reply will say something along the lines of:

‘8 hours using an electric kettle, or about 160 boils, is equivalent to the price of a coffee. It's just over 1 cent per boil. Reduce the amount of water you keep in the kettle for quicker boiling times and less energy consumption.

The actionable tip at the end means users can see a tangible benefit to using the skill, and keep coming back for more.

We are hoping to continue to add elements to this skill, as our users and our team members suggest them. We’d like this to become a hub of conversation about the environment, and believe with time and work, it will become just that. This is only the beginning for Saving Our Planet.

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