I have added a new feature to this blog — an AudioFeed automatically generated by ReadSpeaker, a company that provides text-to-speech services for the International Herald Tribune, the New Statesman, and many business, non-profit and government sites, many in the UK and other parts of Europe. ReadSpeaker is now working licensed databases from Gale and Factiva.
What I am using here is a simple, free service, which may include advertising. The quality of the recordings is pretty impressive for an automated service. You’d never mistake it for a real person actually reading my words, but it does a good enough job of mimicking the general cadence of English, pausing appropriately at commas and periods, and so on.
ReadSpeaker’s services are intended to provide spoken versions of text aimed not only at the visually impaired, but at a larger group of people who may appreciate a spoken version instead of, or perhaps in addition to, the written words. This may includes people with language, literacy and learning issues, those who find the spoken track an aid to concentration while reading, and those who for reasons of circumstance or preference prefer an audio version to a written one.
I must say that although I have been an admirer of ReadSpeaker’s speech software on other sites, I find it rather odd and unsettling to listen to this disembodied, not-quite-real male voice read my own words. But I do think this free service is interesting and could be a good option for libraries who want to make their blogs and other feed-based services more accessible.
And, of course, if people find the AudioFeed a little off-putting, they can always add their own, personally-recorded audiofeed, which would be a good way to enhance their services without much time and effort.