I’m bad about bookmarking stuff to read later, which means my poor web browser always fills up with open tabs. To me, a bookmark folder is a black hole: I can put links there to look at later, sure, but the odds they’ll actually escape and make it back into a browser tab are slim. Instead, articles I mean to read later just sit in my open in my browser — tantalising tabs I swear I’ll get to before their number hits triple-digits, I promise.
This is why I was incredibly excited to stumble across ListenLater.fm, a still-in-development service that promises to automatically create “a personalised podcast feed for you to listen to” from any articles you’d otherwise put on your to-read list for later. In other words, it creates an audio recording of a boring ol’ computerised text-to-speech voice reading whatever articles you send the site’s way.
The service is free to use for up to five articles each month, of any length — a reasonable “trial” version that I’d probably save for long-form stories you’d otherwise read in your favourite comfy chair at home, rather than briefer breaking news articles. Think epic New Yorker longreads versus of your favourite blogs.
If you like how the service works, you can sign up for an annual subscription for $US36 ($49). That sounds a wee bit pricy, but text-to-speech services ain’t cheap, as developer Chris Kinniburgh writes:
“I wish I could offer a more substantial free trial, but without any income from this project, I just can’t afford to (and text-to-speech is surprisingly expensive). I felt it was important for people to be able to experience ListenLater.fm before trying, and 5 articles a month gives you enough articles to decide if this is for you. And if you want to re-evaluate again next month, go for it.
Once you upgrade, you’ll be able to generate more than 24 hours of audio per month. If you start getting significantly past that limit, I might have to start rate limiting you. Again, text-to-speech is surprisingly expensive. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
That sounds reasonable to me. And minus some quirks outside of ListenLater’s control — how long it takes your favourite podcast app to recognise there are new podcast “episodes” in your personalised feed of articles — the service is great. I used its handy browser bookmarklet to add an article to my personalised feed and copied the unique RSS URL for my personal “podcast” and pasted it into the Overcast podcast player on iOS. Immediately, ListenLater popped up alongside my other podcast subscriptions:
And the article I sent over was right there, waiting for me:
As for the quality of the text-to-speech reading, well, it’s about what you’d expect if you were chatting with your favourite digital assistant — though slightly less conversational, since there’s no artificial enunciation. Still, it gets the job done, and it means I can now listen to articles (and lighten my reading load) while showering; driving to pick up essential items; and sitting in bed, waiting for my anxiety-filled brain to calm down and go to sleep.
If you’d rather trade the universal compatibility of the podcast format for a cheaper solution, you can also find a built-in “read it out loud” feature in article-collection apps like Pocket and Instapaper, and browser extensions like Read Aloud. Heck, you can even email articles to yourself and use your device’s built-in text-to-speech functionality to have them read to you. The possibilities are as endless as your “to read later” list.