Credit where credit is due
It would have been super easy for them to just leave the decision the way it was, and move on. We at 3PO-Labs were among the first and loudest raising the red flag on this issue (blog post, forum thread), but even we had essentially accepted the change and moved on. From a technical standpoint, Alexa Evangelist Michael Palermo was correct in his assertion that you could emulate a lot of the literal's functionality through a custom slot. In our testing we found that it wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. The thing is, though, that's not really what the uproar was all about...
The uproar, in short
- Developers were not consulted before the decision was made. The decision may have made a ton of sense internally, but then again we are the engine that populates their ecosystem, so it was important that we were onboard.
- The decision was never announced, it was just noted silently. We might not have even known the change was coming if it weren't for an eagle-eyed member of the Alexa Slack community noticing a footnote added to one of the certification pages. It may not have been the intent, but the optics were that they were trying to slip that one by us.
- It seemed condescending, in its invalidation of our use cases. This was probably the biggest one - the notion that Amazon had decided all of our cool, crazy ideas were not worth supporting anymore. Sure, Dominos and Uber were the ones showing up in the commercials, but that didn't mean that the kooky concept some developer had been working on in his spare time wasn't also a good fit for the platform. For some of us, the thing that really stung is that all of these polished, flashy skills being promoted were skills that weren't innovating or raising the bar with their implementations. Much of the advancement of the Alexa meta was coming from (and continues to come from) the small developers with big ideas; I assert that the Alexa Champions (and those who, frankly, should be Champions - blog post for another day) are the real drivers of platform.
Digging the hole deeper
And really, there's no way to interpret today's announcement in a bad light. There are a lot of good, passionate folks on the Alexa team who want to build cool things, just like most of us. They're still working out the best way to interact with their developers, and what it means to work with their community (instead of occasionally working against it), but as anyone who has been onboard for the last year can attest: their M.O. is leaps-and-bounds better today than it was in January of 2016.
They're on the right track - so here's hoping it's full steam ahead.