I remember when I discovered " Read It Later " (now called Pocket). This is great, I thought. It's like a DVRfor reading. Unfortunately, like a DVR, the Read It Later queue canbecome a dead letter office for good intentions. But what if instead of tagging material for later reading, youcould tag it for later listening? Instead of having to set asidetime to read an article in the future, you could layer it overanother activity, like the time spent commuting to work or walkingthe dog? That may be possible soon if the concept underlying a startupcalled SpokenLayer catches on. |
SpokenLayer's premise is simple but ambitious: makeWeb content as friendly to the ears as it is to the eyes. SpokenLayer plans to turn web content into speech by human beings.While some people don't mind listening to synthetic speech for longperiods -- say, more than a minute -- many more people do. That'snot to say SpokenLayer is turning its back on synthtalk entirely.For content with a pressing time element involved, it says it mayproduce a synth version for immediacy and replace it later with ahuman voice edition. The startup is currently using professional talent and the authorsof articles for its audio content.
The obvious drawback to thatapproach is it doesn't scale very well. SpokenLayer has an solutionto that problem, however. It's preparing a self-service platform tosupplement its contingent of professional readers. It even has asection of its website dedicated to giving would-be contributors tips and tricks for creating audition recordings for the service. As a first step in its strategy to make the Web more aural,SpokenLayer launched an iPhone app last week.
The app contains audio articles from publishers whohave agreed to join SpokenLayer on its maiden voyage. They includethe Associated Press, The Atlantic, the National Journal,TechCrunch, Engadget, TUAW (The Unofficlal Apple Web Site), andJoystiq. In the future, SpokenLayer plans to tag its publishers' writtencontent that has an audio analog with a "listen" button. Althoughit doesn't mention a "listen later" option, it would be wise tosomehow connect the button with the app.
SpokenLayer faces some obvious challenges in the near future. Forexample, how will it manage the labor intensive task of creationand quality control for the vast amounts of audio it will bedealing with? Rights issues may also be an issue. Someday, synthetic speech will be able to emulate our own voices.Better yet, it will be able to emulate famous voices. Think of whatit would be like to have the voice of Winston Churchill read A History of the English-Speaking Peoples to you? Or to have James Earl Jones read something you've written?While those possibilities remain in the distant horizon,SpokenLayer, by adding an aural layer to the Web, could be a babystep toward that future.
Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.
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