Slack took the business world by storm over the past four years. Alexa has taken consumer households by storm over the past three years. It’s only natural that someone would determine how to unite them. The voice application monitoring and developer tools company Bespoken says you can now, “speak to Alexa without talking,” by using its Silent Echo bot in your favorite Slack Group.
The solution is getting some notice too. It was featured on Product Hunt earlier this week and has a number of favorable comments and upvotes.
Use Alexa by Typing for the First Time
Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice assistant were delivered as a voice-first and voice-only solution. While you can now do some basic messaging by text that Alexa will transform into speech (i.e. if you use the Alexa app) and deliver visual images on Echo Show, you must interact with skills by voice. Silent Echo changes this. You can actually interact with many Alexa skills by text input and text output while in Slack or on a webpage.
In a blog post last week, Bespoken founder and CEO John Kelvie outlined some things that Silent Echo can do:
- Control smart home devices
- Interact with and test skills – including card output
- Use it when you need to be very quiet
- Or use it when things are very noisy (too noisy for Alexa to hear)
After your Slack administrator adds Silent Echo to your group, you can direct message with it or add it to conversations in channels. For channel conversations, Silent Echo is a “generic” Alexa bot. However, to DM Silent Echo you actually link it to your own Amazon account to provide a personalized Alexa experience.
Experience Alexa Through a WebPage
You can also interact with Alexa by typing on a Bespoken hosted webpage. No need to wait to get it in your Slack group. Silent Echo is easy to connect to your Amazon Alexa account and I was able to control smart home devices immediately, check the weather and access a few skills. You will even get cards delivered to your Alexa app showing what you have done.
By the way, the default location is Seattle, Washington. Bespoken is actually creating a new Echo device, registered to you, and it requires your location by zip code or street address to use geography-based features. You can do that by opening your Alexa app, clicking the hamburger menu in the upper left and then selecting menu>[username]’s Silent Echo > Device location Edit.
Some Limitations to Know About
There are some limitations to Silent Echo. You cannot use music services like Spotify or stream radio stations. Also, it is not particularly good with skills that require multiple interactions in sequence. The time-out used by Alexa in its standard processing means these types of skills often shut down before you can type your response. Kelvie says this is expected.
Alexa skills today are not designed to wait for someone to type a response. At some point when multi-modal input by text is commonplace, there will be tools to address this. Today, it is a limitation of what is really a proof-of-concept for text-based interaction with Alexa.
First a Bot, Now an SDK
Bespoken followed the web-based and Slack Silent Echo bots with an SDK for developers. When asked about the purpose of an SDK, Kelvie replied:
The SDK enables lots of use cases. More bots to interact with Alexa without voice input. Unit testing that evaluates the behavior of skills programmatically – it’s simple to write tests that compare the text coming in and out of Alexa. And, validation – a sort of deep testing that goes beyond simple input/output and can exercise skills across a multitude of dimensions such as accents, languages, invocation patterns and the like.
We put out the initial UI to show the possibilities. The UI for the web and Slack is a bit of sizzle, but the SDK is the steak. We see a lot of potential for what we and others can do with it. We plan to tap into the SDK over the next few months in a variety of ways, so stay tuned.
So, its not a full Alexa experience, but Silent Echo does provide some Alexa access through typing when using Slack or the web. That will be fun and occasionally useful for consumers when speaking is inconvenient. The SDK is pure tooling to help developers build better bots.