A feature so simple yet I haven’t thought of before is giving text-to-speech capabilities to a blog! Now, I know what you’re thinking. Text-to-speech (TTS) is not really an experience a listener wants to go through because for the simple fact that the voice dictating the words sounds in almost all cases, too robotic. Another limitation of TTS is that it is almost impossible for the voice (or whatever reading algorithm the technology employs) to correctly read back the words as it was intended to be read by a real human. Although the voice can correctly pronounce the words and whatnot, it’s really hard to follow when the voice randomly slows down or speeds up during the reading of a sentence. Last but not least, I hate it when the robot voice does not know when a sentence ends or start. I’m guessing the more complex a sentence structure is, the harder it is for the robot voice to keep up. Again, the robot have no problem reading the words correctly but it just sounds very odd. Just recently I was contacted via email by Frank Qiu, co-founder of a new WordPress plugin called Vocalyze. This plugin helps bloggers easily add TTS capabilities to their blogs and I have to say I am impressed despite all the bad things I just mentioned about this technology.The Kindle has a experimental TTS feature. I find it very hard to follow the robotic voice as it reads the story to me because of the inconsistencies I’ve mentioned above. I also want to admit that generally, I am not a big fan of having words transcribe back to me. That’s one reason why I am also not a big fan of audiobooks. Even though a real human being reads the book and can therefore more accurately read the sentences as it was made to, I still find it difficult to follow along.
The WordPress Vocalyze plugin allows just about anyone to incorporate TTS capabilities for their website. For many blog subscribers, they don’t have the luxury of spending time in front of a computer to read your blog entries, especially if they are really long. That’s why audio podcasts are so popular now days. With the Vocalyze plugin configured for your website, it’s like having your own podcast, sorta. Your visitors now have the option of either reading your new blog entries as they normally would or they could opt to use Vocalyze to have a computerized voice read it back to them. As you can see, this is like having your own audio podcast. Before I installed the plugin, I was curious about two main issues: setup/configuration and how advance was their TTS technology. I’m proud to say that no, the setup is not complicated at all and that yes, their TTS technology absolutely rocks!
Vocalyze for WordPress
Setting up Vocalyze for your WordPress blog is really simple. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything at all besides install and activate the plugin and place the widget on my sidebar!
- You can download the Vocalyze WordPress plugin from here.
- Once activated, head to your Widget section and place the Vocalyze widget in your sidebar area.
- Vocalyze works by utilizing the RSS feed for your blog. You should see your websites address listed in the URL field. If Vocalyze does not work, you will need to manually input your website’s RSS address into this field.
- Pick one of the two Vocalyze icons.
All this widget does is place a small icon and text link on your sidebar that announces to readers that they can listen to your blog entries as well. Clicking on this icon will bring the user to Vocalyze’s main website where the reader can then see your blog’s RSS feed displayed. Each entry can be read by Vocalyze. In my example, only the latest 10 entries are available for choosing.
Vocalyze’s Awesome TTS Technology
The thing that shocked me the most is the accuracy of Vocalyze. After listening to a couple of my blog entries in full, I have not stumbled upon a run-on sentence yet. Any English teacher will tell you that how one interprets and read a sentence is very, very important. This also includes when a sentence should start and end. Another quick example of why sometimes TTS fails is when comma’s appear. The comma is a very important element when constructing sentences and has many uses. When reading a sentence with commas, you would usually give a slight pause before continuing on. Some TTS (or human readers as well) voices don’t pay attention to this rule and so the sentence sounds very wrong. Vocalyze got this part down very good from my listening.
Vocalyze has a free iPhone and Android app that you can use to log in and listen to your favorite Vocalyze content. Vocalyze itself includes a directory of pre-selected sources for you to add to your favorite list. Once you have made an account with them, you can then easily listen to those latest blog entries wherever you are.Vocalyze is not just meant for WordPress blogs. You can also “Vocalyze” your Blogger blog, Tumblr and even your WordPress.com blog!
As of right now, Vocalyze is still fairly new and so not much people know about them. There are limitations such as being only able to read back English text but according to their FAQs page, they are looking to expand their feature set as the service grows.
In the End…
I’ll go back to what I’ve said in the beginning in that I am still not a big fan of TTS but only because of my personal tastes. Everyone is different and if you are a TTS fan, you can’t help but be amazed at how well Vocalyze can read content back to you. I’m only hoping that as we move towards the future, TTS capabilities will continue to expand and sound as natural as possible. If you think about it, TTS does have a lot of benefits, especially to readers who have a hard time reading in general or to the elderly people. Being a big time Kindle fan, I can’t help but imagine how awesome it would be if their TTS technology resembled something like Vocalyze.
I’m glad I received the email by Frank telling me about Vocalyze because if not, I would never have heard about them. It’s only right that I write an honest review of their plugin in hopes of helping them spread the word about their product. Right now, I only have one wish for the Vocalyze plugin and that is allowing users to actually embed the Vocalyze listening widget directly onto our sidebars. Other than that, this plugin absolutely rocks!