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April 7, 2016

You’re the Expert: Teach Cortana When to Connect You to Users

The best real life personal assistants do a few things really well, but for everything else, they rely on a team of experts to get things done. In Cortana’s world, you—the developer—are the expert. Today, nearly 1,000 experts have created Cortana voice commands, so users can easily engage with their apps using voice and text.

This month we announced proactive actions. Cortana can now help you drive higher engagement by proactively suggesting actions that your app or website can perform, just when the user is most likely to need them. With proactive actions, you don’t need to rely on users remembering to use your app! And it requires no new code for your existing deep-linked app or website.

If you would like to join the developer preview, be sure to request an invitation.

Here’s how it works


Cortana is evolving to doing things for users when her insights about users help her to anticipate that they need help. Cortana’s insights are situations or conditions based on her understanding of the user’s context or intent. Because Cortana accompanies users across their Windows 10 and Android devices, she knows where they are and what their schedules look like, and uses this knowledge to formulate her insights about users and when to reach out to the experts.

Developers are the experts and build actions, which help a user to do things via your app, website, or in the future, your bot. By registering proactive actions, you can teach Cortana when best to suggest your actions to the user.


So, if your app or website helps the user to do useful things, such as order food, pay bills, or send a message, you can teach Cortana when best to surface your actions based on users’ context—their schedule, where they are leaving from work, where they are at this moment, where they are headed.

Take the following as an example:

You are in the food delivery business and an expert in getting food delivered when people decide to order it. Now you can teach Cortana when people are most likely to order food or may end up hungry. You create a proactive action mapping “ordering food” to an insight like “meeting over lunch hours” or “working late.” As a result, when Cortana notices that a meeting has been scheduled over lunch hours for one of your users, she suggests to the user that he or should order food. Because Cortana knows the user’s meeting location and food preferences, she helps you provide a personalized experience right away, for example, by showing the cuisines that the user likes and then taking care of filling out the details, such as when and where the food should be delivered.

It’s easy to register a proactive action with Cortana and requires no new code if you have an existing deep-linkable app or website.  And the investments you make in proactive actions carry forward wherever Cortana is available, starting with Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Android, and continuing in the future with Skype, iOS, and more. Several experts are already working with Cortana on proactive actions such as food ordering with Just Eat and Meituan Waimai, home automation with Haier, Peel, and Petzi, playing music with Netease Cloud Music, and in social media and messaging with Glympse, Viber, and Twitter.

What do you need to do become an expert?

  1. Request an invitation to the developer preview.
  1. Register your actions with Cortana in the developer portal. Specify your own action or select one of the predefined actions.
  1. Map your action to one or more insights. Look at the listed insights and ask yourself if you can provide value to the user when that occurs. Choose the appropriate insights.
  1. Identify the contextual information you want to request from Cortana. With the user’s consent, Cortana can share information in the user’s Notebook, calendar, and location.
  1. Specify the deep link. Provide the URI of your existing deep-linked Windows 10 app, Android app, and website that Cortana should invoke.

Once you have registered your proactive action in the developer portal, Cortana will know when and how to invoke your action.

To learn more, check out these two videos from //Build 2016:

Join this team of experts by signing up today.

Written by Mike Calcagno, Partner Director of Engineering on Cortana