Google Knol, a fairly recent launch in a space populated by the likes of Wikipedia and Mahalo, received considerably bad press in the last several weeks. Farhad Manjoo of Slate and Harry McCracken of Technologizer are just two individuals who’ve torn into the service as of late.
So you might not think it’s worth your while. And substantively, it may not be. But can Wikipedia speak to you? Knol can. Sometimes.
If you browse Knol’s catalogue of user-submitted articles (a number of which duplicate content from Wikipedia, but that’s another item for another day), you will find that audio tracks are few and far between. Yet, when you do encounter one or two or more, as Alex Chitu of Google Operating System discovered, you’ll find that the computer-generated vocal portrayal of test on a page is surprisingly tolerable. Noticeably fake, yes, but not terrible. Here’s an example.
Where the pace of a text-to-speech rendition goes most awry is with abbreviations and acronyms and so forth. Also, the speech system doesn’t make very noticeable distinctions between paragraphs, sections, or chapters. Otherwise, it’s not half-bad.
It’s important to note that the audio is only as good as the text interpreted, both in terms of characters used as well factual content, but Google has, technically speaking, produced something here that could be quite useful down the line. Just as long as graphs and tables aren’t critical to the story.
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