Blogging is big. That’s probably not accurate, blogging was big before it was called blogging, now it’s huge. In many cases blogging allows people to play amateur journalist posting their commentary online for the masses to read. The latest twist in blogging takes it up a notch by allowing you to be your own radio talk show host. This recent phenomena is known as ‘podcasting’. The short story is you record your precious audio content to MP3, upload it to your site and wrap it in RSS tags. Reader can then use various software to pull down your content and sync it to their Ipods, PocketPCs or other portable devices for listening on the go. It's becoming quite popular. You can read more about it at: http://www.ipodder.org/. You can find a directory of podcasts here: http://podcasting.net and here: http://www.podcasts.org.
As interesting as this is, it is not the main focus of this post...
As a mobile geek I’m always looking for ways to squeeze more time out of my day. I’ve already posted on my two favorite methods: Audible.com and Text to speech software like TextAloud. So with this in mind you can guess that the idea of podcasting sounds very appealing to me – minus the Ipod part as I would rather use my PocketPC. I have started to find some interesting tech related podcasts such as: http://www.itconversations.com/. This is cool stuff, but it doesn’t really help me with all the blog sites I read regularly that don’t have mp3 audio content. What’s a geek to do? Well my fall back for content I need to follow on the go is to convert it to speech using TextAloud and bring it with me, but doing this manually takes to long too be worthwhile for many shorter docs like blog entries.
Enter what I’m going to coin as Automatic ‘SpeechCasting’. This is combining TTS (TextToSpeech) software with an RSS reader to automatically pull down your favorite regular text feeds and convert them to spoken audio mp3s. And wouldn’t you know it, such software already exists, its called ‘NewsAloud’ and its from Nextup the makers of TextAloud.
NewsAloud lets you subscribe to your favorite RSS feeds as well as news streams from Reuters and Yahoo. You can set the refresh frequency like most readers, once the posts are downloaded you can read them or push a button and convert them to speech and save them as MP3 files. The most powerful feature in my opinion is a mode that automatically converts new articles to mp3s and drops them in a folder of your choosing. You can control the max number of files allowed in this folder and NewsAloud will overwrite the oldest ones with newer ones when this number is reached. This way at any given moment in time you have your latest feeds and news sitting in a folder ready to sync to your device! Some device sync software will automatically monitor a folder and keep it in sync with your player – how easy is that? I’m even able to stream directly from this folder to my PocketPC using Wifi and PocketPlayer and skip the sync stage altogether for when I’m in range of my access point.
So what are the downsides? No solution is perfect of course. NewsAloud doesn’t support Atom feeds yet, but they say they are working on it. Also some, might balk at the idea of listening to computer speech. Well things have come along way since the early days of TTS. Today you can get speech engines made of human sampled speech. These actually sound quite nice, a bit monotone but clearly intelligible. Listen to this a sample clip from this article in spoken by the Crystal 16khz ATT Natural Voice and judge for yourself.
And finally for those who think all software should be free, you might want to look elsewhere. Sometimes you have to pay to play. NewsAloud costs $19.95, but that only includes the basic Microsoft voices. To get a couple of really nice ATT natural voices costs an additional $25. I highly recommend them. They also have bundles of TextAloud and NewsAloud for additional savings.