A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Monthly Archives: April 2019

April 3, 2019

Where Are We In the “Boom Cycle” for Voice?

I can’t help but draw comparisons between the birth of the Internet (really meaning the Web and browsers) and where we are right now with voice. That’s partly because I just finished watching the excellent 6-part miniseries – “The Valley of the Boom” – on Nat Geo. The miniseries does a great job of capturing the ethos of the mid-to-late 90s.

I’m not sure the comparison is fair. The birth of the Web probably can’t be duplicated in my lifetime because it’s the first in a series of booms over the past two decades. I would equate this boom in voice to how mobile phones – and social media – took off a decade ago. Those wound up being huge game-changers – but you didn’t quite know it as it was happening. Not compared at least to what it felt like in the late ’90s. Perhaps the nutty stock market – until the April 2000 bust – made the Internet boom so unique. More likely, it was the sheer magnitude of change from a non-Internet world.

If I had to compare this voice boom to the Internet one, I would say we were in 1997. Many people are aware that voice exists – but most don’t realize the coming waves of change still to come. Most businesses don’t yet have a voice presence – but many are likely talking about possibly creating one. In 1997, people were talking about the “World Wide Web” – but many didn’t quite know what it was. And many companies either didn’t have a website at all – or their sites were plain Vanilla. Basically a brochure online.

The smart money is that voice evolves at a much faster pace than the Web did twenty-five years ago. There is some “FOMA” – and rightfully so, as falling behind in voice might have more serious consequences compared to falling behind in creating your first website in the ’90s…

April 2, 2019

How People Prefer Human to Synthetic Voices

It shouldn’t come as a shock that humans prefer to hear human voices over synthetic. That’s logical. Yet, when building out new skills, some companies are using synthetic because it’s faster & easier to put together. Most synthetic voices use a technology called text-to-speech (TTS) – so you can essentially just use text to create your synthetic voice. That’s much easier than recording a bunch of audio files.

Hiring real “voice talent” – people trained in the “voiceover” field – can be costly. Using “normal” humans to serve as the voice of your skill can sound bad. So you’ll have to run a cost-benefit analysis and see what works best for you. Check out Susan Westwater’s discussion of this topic at the 32:00 mark of this video (ie. depends upon the brand’s personality, etc.)…

One last thought – sometimes a synthetic voice may be preferable over a human one. That works in short bursts of time. For example, in this Voicebot podcast with Drivetime’s CEO Niko Vuori, Niko describes how his customers love the synthetic scorekeeper – whom they have named “Miles” – in his trivia game. The scorekeeper says 3-4 words at particular intervals in the game. To me, that is the perfect length of time for a synthetic voice…

April 1, 2019

Accessing Alexa Wherever You Go

As this Wired article – entitled “Everything is an Alexa Device Now” – notes, you can bring your Amazon device with you whereever you go (or you can have one sitting there for you when you get there). Here’s an excerpt:

Amazon introduced nearly a dozen new Alexa-powered products to the world. Some, like this year’s Echo Dot, were standard upgrades to familiar products. But in the bulk of the newcomers you could see the full payoff of Amazon’s longstanding strategy to put Alexa in more than just speakers. It’s now in nearly everything. Which is exactly where it needs to be if it wants to stay ahead of Google.

Products like the Echo Wall Clock and AmazonBasics Microwave—both of which connect to Echo speakers over Bluetooth — elicited jokes, mostly Kellyanne Conway-related. But they also seem specifically intended as statement pieces, proof that Amazon can squeeze Alexa into the most unexpected of places. “The team started with the most popular appliance that’s out there today. It’s also one of the hardest devices to integrate with,” Amazon wrote in a liveblog of its own event, which apparently is a thing now. If Amazon can make this work, imagine what else it has cooking.

Some of these new items are bound to be more popular than others, but the notion that the devices can be anywhere you go is what I think what Amazon wants to accomplish. That they can handle your needs anywhere – so they should be the voice provider that you rely on…