The Umano application reads articles aloud so you can catch up on the news while driving or working out at the gym or doing whatever it is you guys get up to?
The team behind the app at SoThree inc believe that audio recordings may help publishers generate more engagement and revenue for news stories on the mobile platform. After working together at Google founding members Anton Lopyrev, Ian Mendiola and Prabhdeep Gill realised that they wanted to start a company together, they just did not know what they wanted the company to do. The trio went through various ideas before settling on something that had bugged them for some time: consuming news on the go. “We started the company having no idea what we were going to work on…We were the type that were totally into all the tech blogs that were out there, but not always in front of the computer and pretty active in our daily lives.” Mendiola said.
Until that point, podcasts were really the best option for people looking to multitask consuming news while accomplishing other activities. The co-founders thought they could do something similar by using text-to-speech technology to read articles aloud to the user. The problem, as he put it, is that listening to text-to-speech becomes “unbearable” after about 15 seconds. Mindful of that they decided to do something a little different and recruit voice actors to read news stories instead. This resulted in the start-ups’ first app, Umano, which was released on the iPhone platform in October 2012 and on Android earlier this year. “We posted an ad on Craigslist and realized there was this huge supply of voice talent all around the U.S. that were willing to work and record stuff for very low amounts” Mendiola said. “We have some people that record for free as well.” Umano relies on algorithms and editorial oversight to administer important news stories each day and then has previously vetter voice actors to record audio clips of those stories. The app offers articles across various genres, but the emphasis is on “analytical and thoughtful” pieces that have a longer shelf life than breaking news stories. Mendiola says the primary use for the app so far are people who want to catch up on the news while driving somewhere or working out at the gym. Since the app launched, there have been more than seven million article listens. Mendiola says the team has noticed that users make a habit of using the app several times a week during the same time period. By giving users an alternative way to consume news on their smart-phones, SoThree’s team believe they may also eventually be able to help publications boost revenue from their stories on the mobile platform as Mendiola says his team has been “actively engaging with publishers” to find ways to work together.
The startup has raised about $1 million in a seed funding round announced this week. The funds from which, the team plans to use to hire more engineering talent and cover content acquisition costs for articles.
Personally I would just love to hear the news read every morning by William Shatner, maybe the guys over at SoThree should give him a call?
[Image via androidpit]