Why is text-to-speech only an afterthought?

Buttons-304219_1280I 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 like 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’d stop to consider the possibilities.

I’m thinking mostly about short-form content such as website 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 2-4 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.

New Publishing Solutions Interview with Jim Nye

NewpublishingsolutionsJim Nye was one of the top executives running what at the time was called ITT Publishing, my first employer out of college...many, many years ago.  Jim was an insightful leader and someone I always looked up to.  We went our separate ways after ITT Publishing but our paths recently crossed again.  Jim is a partner in a venture called NEW Publishing Solutions and I thought it would be fun to interview him on the blog:

JW: Ingram has certainly built a strong reputation as an important wholesaler in our industry.  You've done a lot of work with their Digital Group -- what are some of the more interesting things Ingram is doing to further diversify their operation on the digital side?

JN: Ingram, through Ingram Digital Group (IDG), aims to be the number one distributor of digital content.  Working with them to build the beginnings of all of what IDG has become was very exciting. The key focus of all of this is to help Publishers sell more content. IDG is organized into four main business units - publisher, retail, institutional and educational solutions:

Publisher Solutions (CoreSource)
Brings comprehensive digital asset management and distribution capabilities to publishers. Among the features of such a relationship are:

  • Viral marketing via a widget
  • The flow of content directly into print on demand
  • Direct selling via websites powered for the publisher
  • Custom publishing is enabled
  • Content can be flowed to any customer through any channel
  • Files can simply be transformed from one format to another

Retail Solutions
Allows publishers to sell content to consumers through the retail channels and  includes encrypted eBook download in various formats, pdf, .lit, palm etc. Full search and discovery plus a browse inside the book capability are available. They have some 130,000 unique titles available.

Institutional Solutions –  The MyiLibrary
Allows publishers to sell their digital content to academic, Public, Corporate and Government libraries.

Education Solutions
The VitalSource platform is the leading textbook distribution platform and allows publishers to sell their eTextbooks to students, distribute them to faculty (eComps) and offers the capability for search within a title, across titles and within a class or course grouping.

Ingram now has over 500,000 digital files from some 4,000 publishers that are being and are optimised for all the solutions.

JW: You've had a couple of stints as President and CEO of two organizations with an emphasis on computer/web-based training products (Carnegie Learning and ExploreLearning).  How did your traditional publishing background help you in both of these roles?

JN: With both Carnegie and Explore I was working with very bright people who had created ingenious answers to educational challenges without any experience or background in the business of educational content. Having a clear perspective on the relationship between content and intent as well as years of experience in the systems of learning gave me a wonderful chance to bring their great ideas into the mainstream.

I was able to not only help create appropriate systems of management, sales and marketing for them but I also introduced both of the companies to traditional publishers, their people and their business systems.

Interestingly there are a lot of wonderful, effective ideas that are being developed outside the publishing norms all of which can benefit from working with someone with a traditional publishing business experience base.

A number of my small clients fit this profile exactly.

JW: You also held a variety of positions with several educational publishing companies.  Where do you see the college textbook market heading?  Will a device like the Kindle ever live up to everyone's expectations and enable students to carry their entire textbook library with them (without breaking their backs!)?

JN: First, Joe, I do not think that the any answer being sought is going to be provided by a reading device. Kindle, the Sony Reader, and other such attempts have the limitation of primarily being black and white readers with little or no interactivity possible. To my way of thinking the most likely utilized "device" on the market today, that has tremendous potential, is the iPod Touch.  And, the iPod Touch is much more a computer with reading, interactivity, wi-fi, etc. than simply an ebook reading device.

Much of what I see happening to the market is focused around the growing interest in access to content in a fluid and dynamic system, anytime and anywhere and within a wrapper that allows for measurement both normative and formative as the learner approaches desired outcomes.

Who makes the content decision, how it is made and how the selected content is presented and the results measured are undergoing change. Achievement that can be measured and outcomes that can be defined are clearly becoming a part of the educational imperative.

Technology allows for and supports such systems and technology also offsets the limitations of printed and bound pedagogical tools. We can house all of the content required for a college major and much, much more in almost any laptop computer in popular use today (no breaking of the back).

There are some fascinating initiatives underway that are attempting to deal with all of the issues of digital content in education.  One of the most interesting is the California State University Digital Marketplace Initiative.

It is the intention of this program, as one example of the application, to have all of the classroom materials in use on any California State University campus in the future available in digital form. Ohio has a "like" program underway as do a number of schools and universities individually.

Other interesting initiatives are:

and other open source programs that are developed and developing.

Then, another force that I see impacting the educational content market is the entry of non-traditional providers such as Intel, Sun, Cisco, Google and Microsoft who are developing or supporting educational programs central to their corporate mandates.

One only need look at what is going on in the K-12 segment of the educational market to see the impact of new entries, modalities and designs that will bubble up in to Higher Ed.

JW: Finally, quite a few publishing professionals have toyed with the idea of eventually becoming an industry consultant down the road.  You successfully made the transition, so what advice do you have to offer anyone who's currently thinking about making that switch?

JN: Network, network, network.

Know the people who are working in your marketspace, learn what their interests are, how they do their business and establish friendly relationships with them and remember who they are. They will be going places in their companies (or maybe the one you work for) and become an amazing resource.

And do not restrict yourself to meeting people in your specific business. If they are on your campuses or at the meetings you attend you need to know who they are and what they do.

Having this kind of perspective not only will pay off in the future as references, it will enhance your work with your primary targets if you better understand all the work of the people in their world.

Oh, and by the way, if someone is considering becoming a consultant I am always looking for new talent!

Effective Internet Presence, by Ted Demopoulos

Effective_internet_presence_3Social networks are everywhere.  If you haven't dabbled in an any of them you might be wondering where to start or whether you should even bother.  I recently came across this excellent e-book from Ted Demopoulos that's filled with great insights about why you need your own personal, effective Internet presence and how to go about making it happen.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits I picked up on in Ted's e-book:

According to a recent PewResearch study, "18% of working college graduates report that their employer expects some form of self-marketing online as part of their job."

I had to read that one twice to believe it.  That's almost one in five and sounds so surprisingly high to me.

83% of recruiters used search engines to learn more about candidates in 2007, up from 75% in 2005 according to ExecuNet.com.

I had the opposite reaction to this statistic.  Why aren't 100% of all recruiters using search engines to learn more about candidates?!

I haven’t used the phonebook in years, how about you?

That reminds me of this highly commented post from last summer...Ted is definitely my kind of guy!

The personal branding section of Ted's e-book (pages 7-11) includes a lot of great do's and don'ts.  I can't say I agree with every single point he makes (for example, I tend to let my religion creep into this blog from time to time, particularly with the types of books I read/review), but they're interesting guidelines to consider.

The rest of the e-book (pages 15-29) make up the heart of the material.  In this section Ted talks about getting established on Facebook or LinkedIn and then venturing out to comment on blogs, Amazon book pages, etc.  Great advice.

If you don't have much of an online presence yet, download Ted's book and follow his guidance.  If you feel you've already got a decent Internet presence, use Ted's e-book as a checklist to confirm your assumption.  Either way, you probably know a few people who have no online presence whatsoever -- be sure to point them to Ted's e-book as well for a quick and easy way to get started.

Josh Hallett Covers WOMBAT 3

HykuJosh Hallett is at the WOMBAT 3 conference this week and provides loads of great insights from it on his blogThis particular post made me stop and think...several times. Here are a few of the better excerpts:

You never think about writing a book, at first. Today with the web there is an entire generation of kids growing up that know they can write, they can take part in the process.

Almost half the visits to many blogs are from content that is over a month old. Now think about your e-mail newsletters, can I find the content from last month's e-mail newsletter?

Does the home page matter?  So many people are finding content from search results, links from friends.

The devices you want to use are the one that give you control. Think Tivo or the iPod. Each of these devices gives you control over the experience. RSS is similar, it gives you control. RSS delivers awareness without interruption.

MyYahoo Widgets? A No-Brainer!

Yahoo_widgetI've been using Yahoo's desktop widgets ever since they were known as Konfabulator.  They're nifty little bits of content that are readily accessible when docked on your desktop.  At the same time, I've been using a few widgets on my blog and am always on the lookout for good new ones.  I have to admit I never stopped to question why Yahoo hasn't made their desktop widgets available for web page use.  In this blog post, Steve Rubel talks about a Walt Mossberg comment that might indicate Yahoo is opening their eyes to this great opportunity.

It seems like such an obvious feature to add.  Plus, when when was the last time anything new and interesting was added to MyYahoo's feature set?  I still keep a MyYahoo tab open in Firefox, but I don't visit it as much as I used to; adding a growing list of Yahoo widgets to that page would make it a lot more interesting.