SoundGecko, the product of an Australian startup, is launching this week to bring news articles to life in a new way. Designed as a text-to-audio transcribing service, SoundGecko generates an MP3 from a URL, allowing you to listen to an article from virtually anywhere. "I listen to podcasts and radio, but they aren't always exactly what I want," explains Long Zheng, part of the 121cast Melbourne-based startup behind SoundGecko. After spending hours commuting back and forth to work, Zheng says he wanted to find "a way to listen to exactly what I wanted and when I wanted."
From the man behind MetroTwit
You may have heard of Zheng before, he's responsible for the popular MetroTwit Windows client and blogs regularly at istartedsomething.com, but this time he's aiming to launch a whole new web-based service. Andrew Armstrong, a software developer with a media background, and Ed Hooper, formerly at Groupon, have both teamed up with Zheng to build SoundGecko together.
The service delivers an MP3 recording within 30 seconds to an email address, available for download or accessible via an iPhone app. On an average Verge article I found it takes up around 600KB of space. SoundGecko also offers the ability to link with a Dropbox or Google Drive account to automatically push MP3s to the folders of cloud-based services. There is even a Google Chrome extension too. I have been testing the service over the past few days and although it isn't perfect, I found that the text-to-speech voice is great for when you want to simply sit back and listen to an article during a commute. Zheng says there is even plans to experiment with the idea of having professionals read out the most popular URLs to improve the listening experience.
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On the backend, SoundGecko fetches each article, strips out the formatting and page elements to just text and then parses it through a text processing and text-to-speech platform. The company is licensing its voice text-to-speech solution from what is only described as a "premier voice solution partner" and uses Diffbot to extract information from web pages. "We've deployed and optimized our infrastructure on Windows Azure services which scale elegantly at peak times," says Zheng, likely anticipating an increased load on the services in the coming weeks.
"Since our soft launch we've had hundreds of users requesting nearly a thousand articles," explains Zheng. "We are looking to fine-tune our voice platform, functionality and scalability." The service is free for unlimited use for now, but there's plans to allow for a "certain number" of free articles a month without registration and on free accounts. "We will make available more professional-targeted features like reading out PDF and DOCX attachments in the future for a small fee."
SoundGecko will also be available for Windows Phone, Windows 8, and SkyDrive users shortly, and an Android app is being planned. As for the future of the service, 121cast is still trying to obtain funding to push its overall goal forwards, but Zheng seems confident it has a unique enough workflow and set of apps and tools that give it an advantage. "Our vision is to reinvent the radio with personalized information and entertainment."