Listening to the Web  

One of my most favorite web services is Instapaper. For the last four years, it’s a service I have turned to time and time again, to reference, discover and save longform articles.

After moving to New York last year, the service went from being something I interacted with a few times during the week to being a daily use tool. Why? Subway rides. I love reading and discovering great content while traveling from Brooklyn to NYC. It’s part of my morning or evening routine.

When Marco introduced subscriptions, I eagerly paid up, just to support the service and its creator. It’s something I truly love.

Here’s the problem – sometimes I’m not in a position to read my articles. Maybe I’ve got to stand up the whole ride to NYC (or back to Brooklyn) and can’t have my phone out enough to consistently read. Maybe I’m walking the half a mile between my apartment and the subway station and I have to actually pay attention to my surroundings…maybe my eyes hurt.

In those cases, I’ve always wished I could listen to audio versions of my Instapaper queue. Years ago, I used to pay for the daily edition of The New York Times headlines from Audible and download them to my iPod. Today, that wouldn’t work because I’d want to hear a broader selection of content.

Enter SpokenLayer. SpokenLayer is a New York-based startup that launched this week. It’s basically like Instapaper, but instead of saving articles in a format that’s easy to read, it turns that text into audio.

It does this in two ways. The first way is to generate text-to-speech versions of articles using an RSS feed and the latest computer-generated voice processors. The second is by using professional voice artists to record the most popular articles.

This isn’t a new idea; people have been trying to crack this nut for years. But SpokenLayer is the closest I’ve seen to actually solving the problem.

The company just released its iPhone app [iTunes link] and its launched with partnerships with The AP, The Atlantic and AOL Tech. I’m told new partnerships will be announced soon.

The current iPhone app doesn’t allow for offline listening – but that – and the ability to create an audio queue of content from across the web – is coming soon.

Even without offline listening, the app is slick. The mixture of computer-generated and human-read articles is nicely balanced for now – and many of the computer-generated voices are easy to listen to.

I know the founder and CEO of SpokenLayer, Will Mayo. My husband co-works out of his home office – so I suppose I’m a bit biased. Still, there are tons of tech companies I don’t write about that were started by people I know or are friendly with.

The idea behind SpokenLayer was actually born from Mayo’s own struggles with reading growing up. He’s dyslexic and always needed audio versions of his books – even his engineering textbooks.

Now, I’ve never had a problem reading. I was reading before kindergarden and I have a near-photographic memory. Still, I can also learn by listening to things – and as I said, it’s a great way for me to get information into my head in situations where I cannot read.

For the last few days, I’ve been listening to articles from the web using my iPhone and SpokenLayer on my walk back and forth from the subway. For me, it’s the perfect aural counterpart to my beloved Instapaper.

Check it out.


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