The Internet has made it possible for anyone to become a writer with the click of a button. Naturally, the number of quality articles have increased, which are more easily discovered by curators such as LongForm, Kottke, TheBrowser, and more. Invariably, it means that you won’t have enough time to read everything that catches your fancy. So here’s an idea: why not listen to it on your commute?
A new web app called SoundGecko makes the process super-simple by converting any article you want into an MP3 file, using text-to-speech technology. The audio files are sent to your email inbox and can be synced with your Google Drive or Dropbox. There’s also the option of listening to your files in the form of a podcast from any device. Let’s get started:
Step 1: Prepare your article
Once you come across an article you like, don’t rush to convert it. A lot of write-ups are broken up into pages (indicated by those little next page icons you have to click) and SoundGecko can sometimes not play with that. Almost every site offers a Print option, and that’s your new best friend. For example, take this article on Esquire titled The Truth About the World Trade Center. By default, it’s cluttered with a header, sidebars on both sides, and a share bar at the bottom. You can hardly read the article for the site.
That’s not quite what you’re looking for if you want just the article. For that, we turn to the print button. Following is what you get after clicking Print – a long block of text with no pagination. The URL of the Print option is what you should copy since it will give you a better result.
Step 2: Start Converting
There are three ways for you to submit your link and email to SoundGecko for the conversion process.
a) Visit the website: This is the option that will be the easiest for newcomers. Head to www.soundgecko.com and you are presented with a clean interface that requires only two things: the link of the article you want to convert and your email address. Paste the URL into the first box and key in your email in the second. Hit the large Get MP3 button and you’re done. There’s no need to sign up to the service, although that does give you some advantages, which we will come to in a bit.
b) Email it in: Many companies have firewalls that don’t let employees access a large portion of the Internet. SoundGecko has a workaround, though. Grab your article’s link and paste it into the main text box of a new email. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving the subject box blank. It’s as simple as that.
c) Chrome extension: If you use Google Chrome, SoundGecko has a cool extension that makes it much easier to convert articles to MP3. When you are on the page you want to convert, hit the web app’s icon, and in the pop-up tray, click Send To SoundGecko. By default, it will send the email to the Gmail account you are using with Chrome. You can change this by right-clicking the icon, choosing options, and change it in the field there.
Step 3: Grab your MP3
Just like converting the article, there are three ways for you to listen to your audio file.
a) Email: Now just head to your inbox and find the mail from SoundGecko with your MP3 file. The message contains quite a bit of information about the file, such as the number of words, its total runtime and the file size. There’s also a small excerpt, along with an option to read the original link.
SoundGecko will also give you an account of the total time you have saved by using the service instead of reading; each conversion is added to this total.
You have the option to download the MP3 of the article to your hard drive or listen to it online using the web service’s cloud player.
b) Dropbox or Google Drive: SoundGecko has the option of syncing the MP3 file directly with the two cloud storage services. This option, however, requires you to create an account on SoundGecko and to be using the same email address when you convert the article. Currently, the Google Drive option isn’t working properly, although the developers have said they are working on a solution for it. Dropbox sync works flawlessly once you have granted access to it through the Preferences tab in SoundGecko’s account settings.
c) Podcast: Once you sign up, SoundGecko will create a custom podcast for you. Just grab the RSS feed address and add it to your preferred podcast player, be it on your phone or your computer, and you’ll get a list of all the articles you’ve converted. Stream or download, that’s up to you.
Now let’s not kid ourselves. You can’t expect the speech to sound like Morgan Freeman with his somber, pleasing tones. The man’s voice that will read out the article is deadpan and kind of robotic. It’s a bit odd at first, but you get used to it in a few minutes. The bigger issue remains with the artificial intelligence of the text-to-speech software. Dates are read out as digits, annotation marks are mentioned but not the note, and proper nouns can be a hurdle for the software. Still, it’s nothing that your brain can’t figure out for yourself. The audio file gets the job done as intended.
SoundGecko is currently free for unlimited conversions while in beta, but will introduce a limit on the free conversions later, along with paid options for more. For now, though, it’s a great option for converting text posts to audio, and likely will continue to be for the near future.