By Kevin Price, Publisher and Editor in Chief, USDR.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you are now using Flipboard or Pulse. If you still haven’t heard about Flipboard, a company with $200 million evaluation and more than 50 million users, or Pulse, named by the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s former CEO, as being among the most promising developers for the iPad — here is a one sentence reminder: Flipboard, Pulse and the like are customizable magazine readers. They offer a way of gathering different news sources from around the web into one place and displaying it in an eye-pleasing and elegant way.
While many content publishers hurried to jump on board, it seems not everyone was happy with this. In 2010, few hours after Pulse was praised by Steve Jobs, the <em>New York Times</em> sent a written notice that the”company believes your application named ‘Pulse News Reader’ infringes <em>New York Times </em> company’s rights.”
The <em>New York Times'</em> concerns are well-understood. When a reader reads their published article via a third party application, they lose twice. They receive less user traffic now diverted to these applications. Less user traffic means fewer people are exposed to the advertisers ads on the site. Second, the article displayed on these apps is text-only. Again, meaning no ads. Combine the two and you get significant losses in traffic, advertisers and revenue.
Ending the conflict was the compromise of showing the headline or first few sentences from each article and redirecting to the publisher website if the reader cares to read the full article.
As time passed, traditional media owners started to adapt and instead of suing, they are now starting to collaborate. It is now common to see the type of orders from the <em>NY Times</em>: “Existing NYTimes.com digital subscribers with the correct subscription can access full content through the Flipboard. Some NYTimes.com content is free on Flipboard; however for full, unlimited access, you must become a digital subscriber.”
But the game rules just keep on changing. These days a relatively new mobile app named <a href=”https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.volacent.webtogoserver&hl=en” target=”_hplink”>Web2go</a> is challenging the way we consume our news. Similar to Flipboard and Pulse, Web2go aggregates different news sources from the web — and here is the difference — reads it aloud for you. Web2go’s new technology, referred to as Artificial Reading Intelligence (ARI), allows one to listen to the relevant text in an article, from any webpage, skipping over information such as long lists of menu items, photo captions and other data points that are not part of the story. To many, this type of information is an obstacle to the story. Web2go largely eliminates that challenge.
“We started with a problem,” says Web2go CEO Shahar Karni. “A family member had to go through an eye surgery and the recovery process was long. During this time he could not read and we could not find an app that will do the reading for him… so we decided to develop one”.
Web2go is currently reading more than 550 different websites from around the world and users are adding their news sources every day. “As the app grew, we realized that so many people were looking for a solution like this. Commuting to work and listening to their specific chosen website is now possible,” Karni says. “Today, most of our users are people who prefer being read to while they are busy doing other things. We even got a request to add soft nighttime music as listeners drift to sleep with Web2go.” I asked Karni if he thinks Web2go will have the same problems Flipboard and Pulse faced. “Web2go displays the full article webpage while reading its content aloud, and users can browse the article, see the ads and click to other articles. We think that reading content out loud is a basic need and content providers would benefit from it. We are not competing on the same time slot. For example, with Web2go, the Huffington Post can now connect with its readers while they are on the go. We can also help expand the outreach for new publics like the visually impaired and Dyslexic people. So there is a strong mutual interest here.” In addition, it is really easy to email articles to yourself while listening to them being played (It is one click away.) Of course, the links sent to the reader goes to the original source.
Jerome Burks from Virginia, one of the first users of Web2go, was legally blind at an early age, Burks said he, “tried dozens of readers but none came close until [he] came across Web2Go. It has a pleasant voice with an expanding library of content… I use it for hours every day.” The reading voice used by Web2go is a “professional graded” Text-To-Speech engine. Although the voice of the reader is a little robotic, it is surprisingly easy to listen to and understand. In addition it is one of the most intuitive apps I have seen.
I am hard pressed to find anything negative to say about the app. Its free version is possibly robust enough that many people will never go premium. However, I am personally glad I chose to go Premium, because of the many additional sites I have access to. The free version will possibly deter potential competition. Because of how intuitive it is to use, it is easy to add channels, even the ones you don’t want. But by one long press of the problem channel will quickly lead you to more sites to fix that situation. There are a finite number of channels available. One learns quickly to only add channels with minimal distractions to avoid adding sites you do not want to your device. Furthermore, the huge list of categories to choose from is in very small print and difficult to read. Meanwhile the list of sources is quite easy to navigate if you get past the categories. In the future, I hope they mirror the text of the sources for their category list. The list will have to be much longer, but it is better to scroll down then need to find a magnifying glass in order to read it.
There is the ongoing problem of potential legal disputes over copyrighted material, but this seems unlikely. There is no app that I have seen that makes it easier for people to access the information they want from many different sources, while maintaining the copyright integrity.
With free accounts, individuals have two play buttons and users can set them with any of the 550 channels. There are no limits on changing your selection. Premium accounts have 18 play buttons, so this gives them the convenience of a having their favorite channels already assigned to a button. Premium subscribers also have Bluetooth support for the car, subtitles during the audio read, an additional voice (male narration), control over narration speed and pitch, and a local weather forecast reading service.
When asked about monetization of the app, Karni says that “Many of our users purchase the Premium package in less than 10 minutes of use. In the future we would like to work closer with content providers and offer digital subscriptions for their content. We have many ideas.” Currently Web2go charges $2.99 a year for a premium subscription.
So friend or a foe? With today’s traditional media struggling to increase rating and finding new sources of revenue, Web2go just might be the friend they need.