ReadSpeaker PodCaster - listen to 456 Berea Street

I’ve never been a huge fan of podcasts, partly because I rarely carry my iPod with me, partly because I think most podcasts are pretty pointless and not very fact-filled. But recently I was given the opportunity to try out a technology that, at least in my opinion, makes podcasts much more interesting and definitely much easier to create. So now there is a 456 Berea Street podcast!

The good thing is that I don’t need any recording equipment. I also do not need to create and upload audio files. It is all taken care of automatically. All I have to do is type, and ReadSpeaker PodCaster does the rest. ReadSpeaker PodCaster is a service that takes a news feed and automatically converts it to speech. And not your general computer-voice speech either - this is good.

Of course a service like this increases accessibility and is very beneficial for several groups of people, like people who are visually impaired and people who suffer from low literacy or dyslexia. It will also make more feeds available to people who are on the move and like to use their portable media players to listen to information instead of reading it on their computer screens.

Go ahead and try it out: 456 Berea Street, Podcast Edition. (No, that is not my voice ;-).) I’ll be changing to a full feed for the podcast since that makes a lot more sense than excerpts. I’m also looking into the possibility of adding a link to the mp3 file that is compatible with all feed readers. NetNewsWire Lite, my feed reader of choice, does not understand the enclosure that is used to link to the podcast files. Safari does though.

Currently ReadSpeaker PodCaster is a commercial service. I don’t know if there will be some kind of personal edition available for bloggers, but I’m sure letting ReadSpeaker know if you’re interested can’t hurt.

I think this opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. What’s your opinion?

Update: The podcast now contains full articles instead of just excerpts.

Posted on July 25, 2006 in Accessibility

Comments

  1. Well, i hav not listen’d to the podcast, but let me ask you about the “feed:” in front of the URI, that i stumble across every here and there in the last months: what is it? Even Firefox has no idea what to do with this protocol. I saw it in the latest WordPress builds, and now (while reading your feed) with Thunderbird, i saw you placed it in your articles content,too (Thunderbird asked me if it should open it/an application… in the end did nothing) instead of opening the site in a FF-tab… So what’s the benefit of all this? kindly, regards erik

  2. I am not sure about the logic of these things. A lot of products crop up recently that do text to speech (most of the time using the Microsoft Speech API) and claiming to be good for accessibility.

    Personally I get the feeling that it is more of a toy for people who don’t need text to speech but consider it useful - much like we played with SAM/Reciter on Commodore 64 or the text to speech added in the Amiga OS and Macs.

    The idea of a podcast is that it does not only read out the facts, but give you that extra human element of sound. A lot of misunderstandings in emails and posts are due to not being able to hear the tone of voice - for example indicating sarcasm or a joke. That’s the power of podcasts, to put a voice on the information. When you simply convert text to speech you lose that benefit, and, at least to me, the point of a podcast.

    As an ex-audio producer I winced at some quality of podcasts, both in terms of factual information and quality. If the information amount is dubious it should be at least entertaining. A tool like this makes the podcast really impersonal, and someone who needs text to speech software will have software that does that for you and allow you to store it as mp3 if needed.

  3. Very nice Roger, but I’m afraid it only reads the short version of this blog entry (all the way to the sentence “And not your general computer-voice speech either - this is good.”) Then it continues with “Bookmark this at Del.icio.us, Digg or Newsvine.” and the rest.

    The ReadSpeaker Podcast function looks really good!

  4. July 25, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    erik: I suppose the idea is that feeds should be opened in a feed reader, but I’m not sure to be completely honest. I haven’t noticed the feed protocol before and it ended up in this post because that’s how the URL was sent to me. I changed it to http now.

    Chris: I get your point, but I still think this is a nice service that can be very useful for some people.

    Kalle: Yep, I know:

    I’ll be changing to a full feed for the podcast since that makes a lot more sense than excerpts.

  5. When I first heard of ReadSpeaker Podcast I, like Chris, was skeptic to the concept. But after trying it, I noticed how easy it was to use. I also liked their Swedish voice Erik.

    Unlike Chris, I do carry some kind of MP3-device (my phone or iPod) with me all the time. When sitting on the underground doing nothing, I could as well catch up with some of my favorite blogs or news feeds.

    And Chris, those who already have text-to-speech software in their computers often lacks the ability to save it to MP3. Their assistive software does what is is made for: Converting text to speech. That’s it.

    Unfortunately, most of those who really need text to speech software (people with low vision or dyslexia, or natural lazy ones like myself) does not have that kind of software.

  6. RE: erik The feed protocol is used by Safari, and I imagine that is how he received the feed. He mentioned this in the article as well. I use Safari as my default browser, and no matter what RSS feed I click on, it converts to the feed protocol to be viewed and managed within Safari.

    Hope this helps.

    Peace, Nate

  7. I’ve never been a huge fan of podcasts, partly because I rarely carry my iPod with me, partly because I think most podcasts are pretty pointless and not very fact-filled.

    I think you might want to re-visit your opinion about podcasts. A lot of them are music based — hardly what I would consider “pointless” or “not very fact-filled.” And you do know that you don’t need an iPod to listen to podcasts? I listen to podcasts all the time, but I do not own an iPod or any other portable digital music player. For me a podcast is just a substitute to listening to a CD or the radio while a work.

  8. July 25, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Aran: I was thinking of “talk show” podcasts that tend to be a bit too giggly for my taste. I suppose I haven’t been looking hard enough. As for listening to them at the computer, sure, but I find that it distracts too much when I’m trying to work. Could be because I am definitely not a radio person.

  9. Great find Roger.

    I think there is definitely some mileage in a service like this. It’s interesting to see that the International Herald Tribune is signed up to use this. Increasing publishers of all sizes are looking for new way to present/deliver their content and make it more accessible (and by that I mean easy-to-use, not just for people with disabilities). The secret to the success of something like this will be the simplicity of use. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does get used.

  10. That is amazing, but it sounds like 456 Brea Street. Not bad for accessibility purposes though.

  11. I second Rosano’s “Brea Street” comment, hehe. Otherwise, I agree, though - it’s a really good recording. I was kind of amused at the poor quality of this Apple text-to-speech voice which was, ironically, making fun of Microsoft: http://youtube.com/watch?v=60X7KXdanAA

  12. July 26, 2006 by Soup

    I think this is a two-edged sword.

    The most successful podcasts rely on personality, just like radio. This “radio voice” has been scrubbed, sanitized, and sterilized. I couldn’t listen past the first few sentences. Why hear something I can read faster? Because the voice is a) interesting or b) famous. There are many other reasons, all related to a human voice.

    Three cheers, however, for accessibility and text-to-speech technology. The technology is light, cheap, and efficient. It could make the web easier to publish in an audio format. But it could never replace your own unique dialogue and inflection.

  13. To add to Soup’s comment, it would sound much less generic if, at the least, there was a male voice option, since Roger is obviously not female. That would make a little more sense.

  14. Roger: Oh, my bad.

    I kinda agree with Soup and Rosano. It is nice to be able to listen to a blog entry but it would be much better if the voice weren’t so monotomic or at least not, as Rosany says, female. Well, I guess there really isn’t much to do about the monotomic voic. How much are you as a customer over at ReadSpeaker able to control?

  15. July 27, 2006 by Vicki

    One other aspect of this…

    From an accessibility viewpoint, podcasts are generally inaccessible to me (as a hearing impaired person). With the increase in the use of podcasts as a text replacement, the web is rapidly becoming less accessible to me.

    But if there has to be a podcast, perhaps this method is more accessible to me than most because there is, at least, a text version available. :-)

  16. Regarding Kalle’s comment;

    PodCaster takes the content:encoded (if available), otherwise it takes the description tag in the RSS feed and run the text through some dictionaries and TTS. We will soon be able to offer a male voice as well. In just a few days actually. There are ways that we can alter pronounciations of specific words or sentences if requested, but this is not done by the customer.

    Regarding Vicki’s last comment. The good thing with PodCaster is that you get both the text AND the audio, and you just use whatever media you need. The Audio, or the Text. This is usually not possible with real “human recorded” podcasts.

  17. Thanks Nate & Roger, this explains feed: a bit to me, but Netscape Navi(who-needs-this-one)gator, IE7 b2, Opera and other Browsers just display a feed in their custom styles… I’m not a mac guy so i’m still wondering why Safari introduces some proprietary protocol while others manage feed-display without that 5 extra characters pretty well. Ok, now i should really have asked my favourite Search-Engine…

  18. It’s very limited and as to why it places complete Flash based sites near the top of a result makes you think…

  19. Pretty neat. Very intelligible unlike Macintalk. Wish they updated them voices. Hasn’t changed for 7 years or so on OS 8.

    If the information is good then I can definitely see these things playing on ipods. Nice find. Mind telling us how much it costs?

  20. We’ve been using the ReadSpeaker XT product for a few months now at Plymouth City Council, and I’ve been really pleased by it’s performance. As a company, ReadSpeaker have proved to be very cooperative and helpful, always ready to tweak their speech engine for odd or difficult pronounciations.

    One of the things that attracted us to them was the fact that you don’t need to install a browser plugin for their product to work (unlike most of their competitors).

    I haven’t tried their podcasting tool yet, but I’ll give it a go soon - we’re looking to introduce RSS feeds to the site in the near futre!

    Cheers

    Rich

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