Talking websites improve accessibility and sales

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Textic Limited, the text to speech solutions specialist, recently announced the commercial launch of Talklets, the Web 2.0 service that ‘voice-enables’ text-based Web content.

So why should you want to voice-enable your web site? The simple answer is that it adds an extra level of accessibility to the site and further ensures compliance with existing and proposed legislation around the world; but that is only part of the answer.

So which of your visitors can it help?

  • It is not designed to support a user who is blind and is dependent on a screen reader to navigate around the operating system and the browser before arriving at your site.
  • It is designed for a user who has some vision and can navigate to your site. Once on the site it will require less effort to listen to the text rather than use a screen magnifier or just strain to read the text.
  • People with dyslexia can read and navigate around the site but find it difficult to read large quantities of text so will greatly appreciate having articles or product descriptions read out loud.
  • Many people who speak English as a second language find spoken English much easier to understand than the written word, this is particularly true if their native language does not use the Latin script.
  • Some people with learning difficulties will not be able to read but will be able to understand the spoken word.

Could these visitors use a traditional screen reader? Some of them will; but many of them will not have access to the technology, either because of its cost, or because it has to be installed on a computer and they do not have their own and are not allowed to load the software onto a shared computer in a internet cafe or library. Being able to go to any computer and listen to your site is a much more flexible solution for a great many of these visitors.

When looking at accessibility solutions we should always think of ‘dropped kerbs’, the sloping kerbs that make it easy for user of wheelchairs to move independently around our towns. As a by-product they make it easier for mothers with buggies, tourists with wheelie suitcases and delivery men with trolleys.

In fact the by-product is much bigger than the specific accessibility benefit.

Who are the ‘buggy pushers’ of voice-enabled sites?

  • People who find it more fun, or trendy, to listen rather than read.
  • People who absorb more by listening as well as reading.
  • People viewing sites that include images and diagrams, listening to the description whilst looking at the image is much more effective.
  • Time-poor visitors can download an MP3 version of pages and then listen to them on the move.

Sites that provide the extra ‘voice-enabled’ option should experience extra stickiness and that should convert into extra revenue over time.

Textic Talklet technology is unique in this market as it does not require any software to be installed on the client or the server, making it very easy to implement and very easy to use.

The conversion of the text to speech is provided as a Software as a Service (SaaS) by Talklets. Some sophisticated streaming technology provides an excellent response time. The service has been in production trial in a variety of sites over the last six months. When I point at a piece of text the voice normally starts within a second, I am not really aware of having to wait.

Besides the instant speech functionality, Talklets provide some related accessibility features:

  • Text zoom
  • Altering background colours that can aid people with dyslexia and with certain vision impairments.
  • Converting text to MP3 for later listening, this is the one function that a traditional screen reader user might use.

One word of warning: the technology seems to work best when the site content is well structured. Having headings properly set up and paragraphs clearly delineated means the technology can read back coherent chunks of text. A badly structure site may be read in a less than natural way. This is just another reason to ensure your site is well structured.

My recommendation would be to justify Talklets on the accessibility benefits and then to enjoy the extra revenue that will flow from the wider users.