I spend a lot of time commuting to and from work in my car and I try to use the time wisely. I cycle through a playlist of podcasts every week, but I feel as if I’m missing out on other types of content.
Regardless of your daily commute, I’ll bet you’d feel the same way if you thought about it.
Mostly I’m thinking about short-form content such as Web site articles, whitepapers and other documents. If someone sends me a link or I discover an interesting article online, it’s highly likely I won’t have time to read it immediately. That’s why I typically save it in Instapaper or Evernote.
This approach has turned me into an article hoarder as I have countless unread articles in both Instapaper and Evernote. So while I thought my problem was a lack of time at that moment, the truth is I rarely have time to read many of these things later either.
To its credit, the Instapaper app for Android has a text-to-speech feature built in. But the way it’s implemented, tells me it was added as an afterthought. Sure, I can tap the “Speak” button and sit back and listen, but how useful is that when you’ve got a bunch of two-four minute articles stacked up and you’re trying to go hands-free while driving along the highway (or taking a walk, or running on a treadmill, etc.)?
Publishers sometimes talk of engaging with the consumer who’s reading their content while standing in the proverbial grocery store check-out line. Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, look around. Nobody reads like that. Some people have their phones out, but they’re probably scanning Facebook or sending a text message. Rather than heads-down reading you’re more likely to see people with ear buds in, listening to music while they shop or wait in line. And let’s face it: nobody reads while they’re running or doing other strenuous activities.
So along with all those “send to” buttons for various social and “read later” services, why isn’t there one built exclusively for text-to-speech conversions that open up all sorts of new use-cases for content consumption?
The service has to do much more than just transform text to audio though. There’s an important UI component that needs to be considered. The entire platform has to be audio-based, including voice commands. Picture an app on your phone that has all the voice command capabilities of Siri or Alexa, for example. Whether you’re driving or running, all you’d have to do is say things like “skip”, “next article”, “archive”, “annotate”, etc. The user should be able to manually create playlists and the service should offer the option of automatically detecting topics and placing each article in a relevant folder (e.g., sports, business, DIY, etc.).
Don’t forget the social aspect and opportunities here. Using voice commands I should be able to quickly and easily share an interesting article via email, Twitter, etc. Let me also keep track of the most popular articles other users are listening to so I don’t miss anything that might be gaining momentum.
One business model option is probably quite obvious: insert short audio ads at the start of each article, similar to the plugs I’m hearing more frequently in podcasts. And since the article topic and keywords can be identified before streaming it’s easy to serve highly relevant ads that are closely aligned with the articles themselves; think Google AdSense for audio. Give publishers an incentive to feature new “send to audio” buttons on their articles by sharing that well-targeted ad income with them.
Doesn’t this seem like it’s right in Google’s wheelhouse? I suppose they’ve got bigger fish to fry, but this looks like an existing marketplace gap that’s just waiting to be filled.
Publisher’s note: Amen! Of course, as publisher of an e-book blog, I’d hope Joe would also be gung ho on TTS for books. TTS voices aren’t absolutely human; but for many booklovers, from commuters to exercisers and people with disabilities, they can be a good substitute. – D.R.
(Reproduced with permission from Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.)
Thanks to a reader posting elsewhere, I discovered what may be an app that meets many of his needs and those with more serious issues. I’ve not tried it myself, so I can only point readers to the Voice Dream website:
Note that the app is endorsed by both the American Foundation for the Blind and the author of a book on dyslexia. It’s available for both Android and iOS. And yes, the $15 price is more than most apps. But if you’re someone who can make use of its ability to read almost any text from any non-DRMed source, you’ll probably use it so much that what you’ve paid will only come to pennies an hour.
Here’s a link to the iOS version, so your can read the reviews. It gets 4.5 stars.
Again, I’ve not tried it, but it might be just what some who’re looking for a full-featured text-to-speech app.
Also, since Voice Dream Reader highlights the word being read, it can be an excellent tool to teach children who can read to read a little faster. That’s an area where precise speed setting is vital. Reading speed can be set anywhere from 50 to 500 words per minute.
Here’s the detail spec list:
All in all, it seems quite feature rich. Of course DRM is an issue. Perhaps companies such as Amazon and Apple should offer a way for people who can demonstrate a medical need for text-to-speech to work around their DRM. It’s be simpler for them than adding all these features to their reading apps.
Oh, and there’s also a Voice Dream Writer app that was designed to assist those with reading disabilities to write better but would probably benefit the rest of us too. Anyone who writes articles or books and wants to proof them well needs at least one pass listening to the text read. Mistakes you can’t see can often be heard.
It’s $10, but currently only for iOS:
It is intended for those who write within the app and has a unique feature. It can read aloud to you as you type. It gets rave reviews from those who benefit from its special features.
For iOS, they sell a Voice Dream Suite with the Reader, Writer, and more U.S. voices for $20, which might be a better buy for some:
Youtube has video reviews of both apps.
Also, those who have or work with people who have reading issues might want to follow the Voice Dream developers blog:
They have worked with the Swiss Library for the Blind to add audiobooks support, so users don’t have to use one app for text-to-speech and another for audiobooks. As the developers note:
“But the offer made me think. How do I determine the boundaries for Voice Dream Reader? Then, it slowly dawned on me that my mission is not text-to-speech. My mission is to make it possible for everyone to read, and text-to-speech is one of the ways to make that happen. Recorded audio is another way to make text accessible. If I think about it that way, audiobook is very much inside the boundaries.”
And here’s a description of the lead developer’s vision: