Story Shake-up: Storyline Shuts Down Code-Free Alexa Skill Builder to Focus on Invocable Service for Voice Designers and Storyflow Becomes Voiceflow
Vasili Shynkarenka, CEO of Storyline, announced today in an email to 3,000 users that it would soon discontinue its code-free Alexa skill building and publishing tool. Users have until the end of the year to make edits to their Alexa skills built in Storyline and after that, the company will continue to host the skills but no more edits will be possible. If current users wish to be able to maintain their skills, they must port them to another platform before year-end.
Replacing Storyline is a new product called Invocable which has also become the company name. This will not enable users to build or publish Alexa skills but instead will target the needs of voice UX designers for prototyping. Invocable users will not be able to publish directly to the Alexa skill store or manage their skill in production. The company says that you will be able to test your Alexa skills and it will generate code, presumably to streamline your actual skill development.
Storyflow Pivots to Broader Voice App
Storyflow, which was often confused with Storyline because it also offers code-free Alexa skill development, changed its name last week to Voiceflow. That change was precipitated by Voiceflow’s intention to move away from simply supporting story-like voice interactions to any sophisticated voice app. In the company’s Facebook community, Voiceflow’s founder even suggests that developers looking for prototyping should check out Storyline or Voiceapps. However, today the company took down its gated signup to accommodate a rapid influx of Storyline users looking to try out its system.
Voiceflow does have a free tier for users, but it is limited to 2,000 interactions which will limit who can actually stay free. Voiceapps looks like the company with a long-term commitment to a free user tier, but that may only be true until their next funding round. A week ago we had two Story companies that surely faced some issues with name confusion. Today, the Story name is gone.
Storyline Pivots in User Focus and Business Model
Back to Storyline. Two key changes were announced today by the company. First, the change in functionality away from development and publishing and to design and prototyping. Shynkarenka said in a Facebook post earlier today:
“Despite our amazing community of enthusiastic skill creators and the wonderful skills that were created on [Storyline], we realized the needs of our professional users are growing different [sic] than the needs of creators. And we had to focus on one direction as a business.”
There were clearly many designers using Storyline as a quick prototyping tool. Sayspring was the original code-free prototyping tool, but it has been invite-only since being acquired by Adobe in April. Storyline became an alternative and clearly appear to be a more readily monetizable audience than independent developers. That leads to the second change. Storyline launched as a free service, but Invocable is going to launch as a paid service. Pricing is not yet available. Shynkarenka commented:
If you’re doing voice design professionally and you like what Storyline does for prototyping, you’ll love Invocable. It’s invite-only at the moment so we can make sure that our new product is a good fit for you. It also has only a paid plan, so that we can make sure we’re solving the problem worth paying for.
This pivot comes three months after Storyline closed a $770,000 funding round led by Boost VC’s Adam Draper. At the time, Storyline’s plans appeared to be a continuation of its code-free development and publishing trajectory. Shynkarenka said that integration with Alexa in-skill purchasing was a key focus. That is not likely an important feature given the new direction. It is also not unusual for startups to change focus or markets shortly after a new funding round which also brings new ideas about the business model and company strategy. Also, in late July a survey sent out to Storyline users may have revealed a latent need to improve the tools for designers. I have reached out to Invocable and will update this story when I learn more.
The Change Has Caused a Mixed Reaction from Storyline Users
In Storyline’s Facebook group, there are plenty of positive comments about the change and a clear affinity for the team and legacy product. The people that were not particularly interested the publishing features will likely benefit from more depth in prototyping capabilities. Others were not likely using it for a business and were not too concerned their sandbox was disappearing.
However, many users were surprised by the abrupt change that was announced after a two-hour scheduled downtime this morning that ended with Storyline being replaced with the new Invocable application online and a redirect of the getstoryline.com website to Invocable.com. One community user commented that she was, “a bit shocked” by the developments and lack of information about transition options. Shynkarenka has committed to support the Alexa skills as they are and even asked users what type of export tool would be most helpful. It appears the company will attempt to support users by making the transition easier, but the method for that remains unclear.
What About 5,000 Alexa Skills
Shynkarenka also commented in a Medium article that Storyline had published over 5,000 Alexa skills. The question now is what happens to them. They will be supported for a period of time by Storyline, but eventually many will likely get removed from the skill store if they are not updated and refreshed.
There was a burst of innovation over the past year in terms of new companies launching to serve the growing community of voice app developers and designers. We aren’t quite seeing a consolidation at this point, but we are seeing companies that have been in the market for awhile refine their strategy and that means some are heading in a new direction.
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