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BuzzVoice reads aloud to you almost anywhere

David Winograd

BuzzVoice can most simply be described as a talking reader for over 1400 blogs, but saying that doesn't begin to do it justice. It's not just an iPhone/iPod touch app, although BuzzVoice provides one [iTunes Link]. It's a platform that can be enjoyed on a variety of devices including any iPod or mp3 player, your computer, Blackberry (upcoming) or with added functionality on the iPhone/iPod touch running OS 2.0 to use the basics, or OS 3.0 or better, to use in-app email.

BuzzVoice is the butterfly that emerged from chrysalis of the now defunct PimpMyNews app, a talking reader with far less functionality. What it grew into is a full system that starts on your computer at the BuzzVoice site. There you can sign up for a free account and explore the 1400 different blogs that BuzzVoice can read to you. The site allows you to listen to individual stories and to email a story that, when received, contains an audio file of the story, as well as the ability to visually read the story either on the site or by being transferred to the originating blog.

The BuzzVoice site lets you create a list of MyFeeds in where you build a list of the blogs you are interested in hearing by either searching, browsing or picking a ready made playlist based on specific interests. This is handy and becomes quite important when we get to the iPhone app.

The site also lets you put together a Buzzcast, which is a grouping of blogs that you like, and have that grouping transform into a 10 minute (for the free version) or 30 minute (for the pro version) personal podcast that, after a click, will be added to iTunes and update daily, so it can be heard throughout the iPod line. A feed is also displayed for use with a non-iTunes powered device.

How does it sound? I was expecting to be disappointed since I have had enough of the 'take-me-to-your-leader' type vocal stylings of many talking apps, but I'm very happy to report that the voice implementation is nearly perfect. It sounds quite natural with great attention paid to punctuation. You can choose a male voice or female voice or have BuzzVoice mix it up, using the pro version. For free you get one voice. The sound was good enough to allow me to stop paying attention to the player and start giving my full attention to the story being read. This is not a small thing if you're going to listen to more than a story or two.

The iPhone app (selling now for $US1.99) ties in nicely to the site and provides additional goodies. On the bottom of the screen are four buttons. MyPlaylist displays all the blogs that you put into MyFeeds on the site. Tap one and you'll see the current story list, tap a story and it will be read to you. If you tap the blue arrow to the right of each story a second screen lets you share a story via Facebook to Reddit (plus 4 others) or email. You can tap Listen to hear the story, or tap Source to read the story in BuzzVoice, which doesn't present in landscape mode, or Safari, which does. Tapping My Buzzcast will play the Buzzcast that you created on the site without having to go to iTunes.

The third button, BuzzRadio, is interesting. Tapping it brings up a listing of topics ranging from Apple Radio to Politics Radio to Sports Radio. There are currently eight stations to choose from. When you pick one, a grouping of top stories from various subject-specific blogs gets built, which BuzzVoice then reads; perfect for any time your hands should be somewhere else (driving, running or whatever). You don't get this on the site.

I'd like to see a non-variable, or user designated playing time for the stations. As it is now, I've found that playing time can vary from 4 minutes to 30 minutes. I can see that being a problem when driving and expecting a longer read. Once that is fixed, I'd like to be able to stack stations so if I know that I'll be in the car for 90 minutes and I know that each station plays for 30 minutes, I would be able to stack 3 topic-oriented stations which would then be sequentially read to me, filling up my 90 minute drive. The fourth button is 'Info' which doesn't really provide any. Instead, it opens up an email where you can report mispronunciations, suggest blogs or ask for help. It would be nice to see a little tutorial on this page.

In the iPhone app, when you receive mail sent from BuzzVoice, either from the site or from another iPhone, you get a link bringing you to a BuzzVoice-formatted Safari page with a big Listen to this story button on top and the full story with graphics displayed below. This is a very nice feature.

The feature changes I would like to see will probably happen since one of the developers (in the video at the end of this story) is John Atkinson, who is passionate about making BuzzVoice the best it can possibly be. This is a short example of what I mean: I was testing the app and ran into a problem with reading being stopped if a TUAW story had a 'read more' option to take you to the second page. I contacted John with an RSS feed that contained stories printed on one page. The next day TUAW on BuzzVoice presented full stories regardless of their length. Since server side changes can be made without requiring revision and re-authorization, new blogs can be added upon request.

And now a word on pricing. BuzzVoice employs the free/pro model used by Evernote. For free you can install up to 10 blogs in your MyFeeds list while the pay version allows up to 50. The same is true for the Buzzcast which is 10 minutes free or 30 minutes pro. The pro version also lets you choose a male or female (or random) voice along with the ability to choose the time of day that your Buzzcast will be ready. The pro price is $US3.99 per month. I seriously wonder if this pricing model will impede sales since paying once is one thing but taking on another monthly bill is something else, even if it's for just US$3.99 per month.

Pricing aside, this is a major accomplishment. I can't say it's a first since the same guys already did a lesser version with PimpMyNews, but the possibilities are vast. BuzzVoice brings podcasting to over 1,400 blogs broken down into 59 categories while using a natural-sounding voice allowing you to take in content audibly. It does it smoothly, easily and naturally from a well designed multifaceted platform allowing use on a huge number of devices.

I think this is going to be big.

BuzzVoice has given us 10 free promo-codes to be given away to TUAW readers. You can enter the giveaway here on our App Hub, but remember that the promo codes do NOT include the monthly fee for the pro service. That is handled via the BuzzVoice website.

Best of luck to you all. Now check out the video.

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