November 23, 2005

Wiki Out Loud: Wikipedia Entries on Audio


A few nights ago I was at the office and the ol’ brain was fried. I decide to take a couple of hours “off” and record some Wikipedia entries on audio. It was kind of fun. Here were my reasons for doing this:

1. I learned about some cool new stuff while reading. For instance, did you know that JFK, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis died on the same day (November 22nd, 1963)?

2. I thought that having some Wikipedia entries on audio would be a cool resource for visually impaired people, non-native English speakers, etc.

3. We probably won’t do a lot of these but I thought that by kicking some off maybe some other people (whose narrating voices are a lot better than mine!) would be encouraged to do this and after a while a good chunk of Wikipedia would be available on audio.

I recorded six entries and we put them up on the site yesterday. Here they are:

Big Science
C. S. Lewis
Creative Commons
The Long Tail
Web 2.0

After putting these up I noticed that there is a similar project already in the works called Spoken Wikipedia. It looks like they have a couple hundred entries including some rather eclectic ones like “Gumball machine” and the “Don and Drew Show” (um, isn’t that supposed to “Dawn”???). The rationale for doing the Spoken Wikipedia project was similar to ours. Here’s what they say:

* Spoken articles make wikipedia content available to those who can understand English but cannot read.
* With spoken articles, users can listen to Wikipedia articles while they perform tasks that preclude reading, but not concentration (such as biking, running, doing housework, etc). It is presently difficult to find high-quality audio content that entertains and educates like spoken featured articles do.
* Blind users can of course use screen readers, but no matter how good the computer voices are, they will never be as pleasant as a human vocal performance.
* Non native English speakers, and those that don’t speak it at all, can have a valuable learning tool. Having a large number of examples of how words are pronounced can be important. In addition, being able to hear how words are pronounced and read them at the same time offers two simultaneous learning styles, auditory and visual, for potentially faster learning.
* Some may find it easier to concentrate on reading an article while listening to it, especially in an environment with distracting sounds (with the use of headphones).

Anyway, the more the merrier as far as educational audio content goes. I don’t really know whether to link to our audio titles from Wikipedia or not. I don’t want to step on any toes. And I probably should contribute my entries to the Spoken Wikipedia project as well although they use the OGG file format which I find to be a bit of a pain in the ass (although I understand why they use it).

So I hope you enjoy the audio entries and can put up with my occasional stumbles through names and tough-to-pronounce words. We’ll probably do some more from time to time. I do think that an “audio encyclopedia” would be a great resource and there doesn’t seem to be a better place to start than Wikipedia given its open licensing. If you’ve got other thoughts on the matter feel free to ping me at suggestions@learnoutloud.com.

Have a great weekend everyone!

April 12, 2005

Free Audio Books!

Everybody wants free audio books. No matter what place I’m finding the audio book lover I’m also finding the guy or gal who wants it all and wants it now and wants it real free. I like the reply of most audiobook lovers to these people. Dude go to the library. And I do go to the library and you should too. But the audio book selection at the library can suffer from time to time. And your iPod is sitting there without any fresh audio book downloads on it. So you want some audio books and you want to download them right now for free. Well then check some of this out:

Project Gutenberg
Free Classic Audio Books
Audiobooks for Free

And I always remember to tell people on that last one to click the AK-47 at the top of the page. If you don’t you’re missing out big time.

So that’s free folks. It’s usually public domain which means the titles it offers were published before you were born. And there’s some other free sites with 1000s of titles where a computer reads eBooks to you. Bad idea. But that Free Classic Audio Books listed above is a computer narrated audio book site with pretty decent narration. It’s still cold and inhuman, but as the computer evolves it will eventually put to rest the need for a Frank Mueller. Capturing all the subtleties of human emotion and speech this neuro-scientific supercomputer will put to rest the days of narrators and then there will be a massive free flow of computer talking books on demand at the click of a button and we’ll be so awash in a sea of aural information that our brains will explode. Until that day enjoy the few free downloads available.