Can a company make the Web talk? VoiceCorp is aiming to pioneer advanced text-to-speech technology so websites can "speak" to surfers. In an exclusive report, Digital Journal has learned how VoiceCorp will help citizen media with a new tool.
Imagine if every article you read on the Web spoke to you. If text could float over your ears while you cook, work out, sew a sweater, anything. If a crisp voice pronounced each word precisely, as if a radio announcer was simply reading articles as scripts.
It's not a fantasy because a rising company out of Stockholm, Sweden has evolved text-to-speech technology to create software winning global acclaim. VoiceCorp is the brains behind ReadSpeaker, a tool that speech-enables websites so visitors can hear an article quickly and easily. Just click on a "listen" button and ReadSpeaker turns an article into an audio file. VoiceCorp has more than 2,000 clients and offers ReadSpeaker in more than 20 languages.
DigitalJournal.com has learned VoiceCorp is launching a new product tomorrow that will will change the tune of citizen media and blogging.
Talk to Me, Internet
Who's clamouring to speech-enables their sites? The International Herald Tribune is a client, as well as the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Sweden's Royal Court, tech firm O'Reilly and even DigitalJournal.com (you can listen to this article by clicking play just below the headline).
"We want to make websites accessible to more people," says Niclas Bergstrom, CEO of VoiceCorp, in an exclusive interview with DigitalJournal.com. At first glance, ReadSpeaker seems ideal for those with more serious sight disabilities, but blind Web surfers already have specialized software that allows them to do everything possible on a PC. Rather, he views ReadSpeaker as an ideal option for multitasking people who want an alternative to reading a post.
"We've worked very hard to maximize the quality of speech on our site," Bergstrom says. He mentions the importance of having linguists on board to make sure the processing engine can pronounce words properly.
After a DigitalJournal.com test, the ReaderSpeaker technology performed very well. The female voice we chose had good pacing and pronunciation, allowing the flow of sentences to travel naturally. Even more impressive was the technology's ability to view words such as "GB" and pronounce "gigabyte." And reading "iPhone" it truly gave us the word "eye phone" instead of what we might've expected to hear.
Digital Journal is one the clients who has implemented the text-to-speech tool on all its article. For more on that initiative, click here.
For interested clients, VoiceCorp offers two versions of ReadSpeaker: proReader works with smaller websites, like non-profits and smaller news destinations, perfect for sites that bring in maximum one million views a month. The Enterprise version works best for large-scale sites such as government or popular news sites. Enterprise ReadSpeaker is customizable and works on any device that has a browser and the ability to play MP3s -- essentially, it could work on iPhones and other smartphones.
The 'Voice' of Citizen Media?
Citizen journalists, take notice: Voice Corp has given DigitalJournal.com the exclusive announcement about its new audio package called webReader. It's a service that can be added to a blogger's or citizen reporter's page that can "read" the entire page or a pre-determined section. The tool resembles a button that can be added with a plug-in, widget or pasted HTML code.
Adding webReader was a no-brainer for VoiceCorp. "Many smaller media companies were asking for this service," Bergstrom notes. "They realize how great it can be to bring text-to-speech technology to their sites."
The prospective customers are also getting webReader free, although it carries along some ads in order to allow VoiceCorp to recoup the costs of developing the service. It is a limited service because users can only choose one language and one accent -- North American bloggers get an American voice, for instance.
Bergstrom sees the appeal in webReader making inroads in citizen media, especially since the media landscape is changing. "Why buy different newspapers when you can go to one site and read various perspectives an issue? Speech-enabling those articles enables more people to enjoy that content."
But how risky is it to introduce a new product during this economic slowdown? Bergstrom is bullish, saying bluntly, "VoiceCorp is profitable. We have several advertisers lined up for webReader, and we have money from a private investor that helped us bring this product to market."
Bergstrom admits there are challenges to having this new media tool reach critical mass. "If the advertising market goes down the drain, then we aren't in the best position."
Still, VoiceCorp's noble mission of "making the world a better place by speech-enabling the entire Web," as Bergstrom characterizes it, holds tremendous value for clients and casual surfers. Some of us like reading books, some of us like listening to audio books; with ReadSpeaker, you can get the best of both worlds.
For more information on VoiceCorp and their products, visit www.readspeaker.com