Actions on Google is the developer platform for creating conversational apps for the Google Assistant and publishing them to Google Home, Android, the Google Assistant app on iPhone, and beyond.

The Google Assistant is Google’s vision for how computers can help people get things done. Google is promoting the Assistant as the next major advancement in computing – like smartphones and the Internet. Just say, “OK Google…” and the Google Assistant is there, ready to help you. Accessible on over 500 million devices, the Assistant’s reach is rapidly spreading. Hundreds of thousands of developers have written 3rd-party “Actions” for the platform in the last year.

Google’s first message to developers and designers looking to create Actions for the Google Assistant is: “before you write a line of code, learn Conversation Design“. Conversation Design is Google’s umbrella term for all the disciplines required to create a conversation that users will love. The top 3 Conversation Design tips are: create a persona, think outside the box, and there are no “errors”. Your Action’s Persona includes things like tone, word choice, and voice. It’s designed based on your users’ needs. For instance, if users are coming to your Action for something like ordering a pizza, your Persona could be lighthearted and a little goofy. Next, it’s important to think outside the box when you’re designing conversation structures. Focus on high-level concepts like the different things users might want to do with your Action. Don’t write up a single sample conversation and start coding! And third, there shouldn’t be any errors when a user is interacting with your Action just like there are never 404 errors when two people have a conversation. Trust that your users will be cooperative. When they say something that you don’t know how to handle, think of ways to recover the conversation and get it back on track. You want to minimize frustration and allow users to have a smooth experience.

After you understand Conversation Design, you can dive into creating your first Action a few different ways. The simplest way is to fill out a Google spreadsheet and use a template project – this is great for trivia games or flash cards. The most advanced option is to use the Actions SDK and code your entire Action line by line – this is best for apps that just provide an answer and then leave the conversation. And the last option is to use Dialogflow to create and train a conversational agent – this option is the best balance between simplicity and power. Dialogflow is simple to use because code is optional. You can create a simple conversation just by typing in things your users might say and how your Action should respond. Dialogflow’s power is in the Natural Language Processing under the hood. Based on the sample input you provide, Dialogflow will learn how to converse with your users and respond correctly, even when they use different phrasing.

There are a few key concepts that will help you get started with Dialogflow: Intents, Entities, and Fulfillment. Intents define specific tasks a user might want to accomplish, like scheduling an appointment. Entities capture parameters from the user’s requests, such as the date or time they specify. And Fulfillment is the way to tie your conversation logic to code to process more complex interactions and connect to other services – like adding an event on the user’s calendar.

There is so much more to discover about building conversational Actions, but these tips should get you ready to start speaking the Google Assistant language in no time! Come to my session at HDC 2018 to learn more. If you want to connect with our team to see what we might be able to help you build contact us at gig@clientresourcesinc.com.

Ben Wicks is an Android developer at Client Resources Inc. in Omaha and a co-organizer of Omaha’s Google Developer Group. Ben was first introduced to Android development in his senior computer science class at Millard West high school. Since graduating from UNO in 2014, Ben has worked on two enterprise Android applications. Ben is passionate about testable architecture and helping new mobile developers find that spark to constantly learn and grow.

Contact