Ok, I’ll admit it. I use Audible.com for the majority of the books I “read”. (Is it still called reading if I’m listening to it? Deep thoughts…) Maybe it’s the fact I can multitask while doing it (“…raised by technology, and majors in efficiency.”), the fact that it’s more convenient than carrying a book (since it’s on my phone already), or maybe it stems from a deep-seeded psychological need to be read to since I wasn’t as a child, who really knows. The fact of the matter remains though, that, while not the case for all my books, I enjoy listening to books on a bus or the subway more than I enjoy reading them.
Update: Apparently DropBox bought Umano and shut the service down earlier in 2015 so you won’t be able to find it in the app store anymore 🙁
But, what do you do if you you’re sick of listening to the tantalizing fantasies of 50 Shades of Grey for the eighteenth time? And even more so, what if you’d like to be able to talk to other people about more than just the tantalizing fantasies of 50 Shades of Grey without that pesky reading thing? Well, this weekend someone introduced me to a possible solution in the form of an app: Umano.
How Umano Works
Umano is an app that essentially takes the most popular news stories of the day and presents them to you in a curated list. I know what you’re thinking. Sounds a lot like [insert any plethora of news curating apps from Feedly to Flipboard to whomever]. But, here’s the big differentiator –they hire professional voice actors to read the articles. This means that you can plug in your headphones and get caught up on the latest news and popular stories without having to read it for yourself (which, again, is so 1990’s of you).
Besides the convenience factor and ability to make it easier to multitask (did you know your brain uses a different part for audio than it does visual stimuli?), there’s also the added benefit of saving our eyes some stress. Of course, it’s shown that staring at a lit screen can affect you in a ton of not-so-great ways as we all know, so why not save yourself a little bit of that by giving them a break when it at least comes to the news.
How to Use Umano
The whole process is pretty straight forward.
- Install the app from the Play Store or App Store and open it.
- Setup your “channels” or interests and then start browsing the most popular stories.
- You can either click on them to listen to that article directly, or tap the plus sign to the side of it to add it to your running playlist (that when listening to, automatically plays the next article whenever you reach the end of one).
- That’s pretty much it. Simple, no?
I’ve been using the app for a few days now and have to say, I like it so far. The voice actors are clear and easy enough to listen to. The app lets you customize what types of news you’d like via categories which helps it keep the news in a vein you’d prefer to listen to. And it even has an ability to save the audio file(s) to the phone for listening later (a necessity here in NYC where the majority of our travel is done among mole people).
There’s also the other side of the app that intrigues me: the narrators. If you click on the Popular tab and then click on Channels, you’d expect to see a bunch of publications that you could follow for their news but instead… You get the narrators themselves. Paula Rizzo, who’s description lists her as an “Emmy award winning TV producer.”, John Boitnott, “a journalist and digital consultant”, Dawn Hafner, “Writes for Lifehack, Simple Steps Real Change.”, and it goes on. In addition to seeing the narrator’s photo and short description, here’s where it gets interesting, there’s a follow button. Like a particular narrator and how their voice lulls you to sleep, gets you pumped about new studies involving the makeup industry, or whatever other reasons you can dream up? Follow them to be notified every time they read a story.
This intrigues me because it isn’t about the news outlet or type of news, it’s about the voice. Apparently, the app takes the top news stories and then sends it to the narrators to pick up and read (and gives them a small, undisclosed compensation for doing so). So, my concern is, if I follow a narrator am I going to get random stories that I don’t care about? The other side to that, though, is it’s more like a normal news anchor on TV that you like –they just tell all of the stories regardless of the category and that’s that. Either way, it’s an interesting approach and, since the narrator’s name and link are prominent when listening to a story, it could be a good way to promote yourself (either for voice work or your own publication). If you love to hear your own voice and think others might like it just as much, you can head to their site here to record a demo and apply to become a narrator (if you do, let me know how that works out).
Overall, it’s an interesting and efficient way to get your daily dose of news and I have to applaud them for at least doing something different in the world of “me, too” news aggregates. Check it out for yourself, come back here to hurt your eyes for just a bit longer, and let me know what you think.