Online reading is often incomplete. Most of you won’t finish this piece — many won’t even come close. Text-to-video app Wibbitz would like to change that, counterintuitively, by not making people have to read at all.
Wibbitz, which released a new version last week that includes video and updates in line with iOS 7 design, uses algorithms that learn from user feedback and instantly turn text articles into narrated animations. It does so by surfacing relevant video, creating ad hoc infographics and panning across licensed images — all without any human editing.
Potentially terrifying, I know. But according to founders Zohar Dayan and Yotam Cohen, the service has a 90 percent accuracy rating (as scored by user feedback) and it actually retains a lot more of the original piece than you’d get from some aggregators. Each vertical — technology, sports, world news — approaches the video summaries differently, Cohen said, responding to the different visual needs of each, while one of six voices reads segments of the story, including the lead paragraph. If you’re so inclined, you can swipe up to see the original article in all its text-based glory.
At 90-120 seconds a piece, Wibbitz video lengths clocks in at slightly longer than the average TV news story but shorter than the approximately four minutes it would take to read a 500-word article. Publications can participate by entering in some code and Wibbits will produce video versions of their text. The Horizons Ventures-backed company, which launched four months ago, already counts over 150 publications among its partners, including The New York Times, BBC and AP.
Despite the fear such an app might arouse in older media types, Dayan and Cohen told Gigaom Wibbitz is not intended to replace reading — both founders are avid news junkies and claim to watch TV news each night — but instead they see the use case as when it’s inconvenient to read, say, while commuting.
“Video is not going to replace text,” Dayan said. “What we’re doing facilitates and complements the text and replaces it only in certain situations.”
They also see Wibbitz as a a boon to traditional publishers because they could now have videos for all of their content. Publishers would pay Wibbitz a revenue share for the ads they display with the videos, which are easier to monetize than text, but traditionally cost much more to make.
According to Dayan, “We’re all news junkies and we thought to ourselves: ‘We carry these advanced devices in our pockets yet we’re reading exactly how our grandparents do it, but instead of big newspapers it’s a 4-inch screen.’” The videos, he said, will allow publications to innovate and scale with video.
To me the Wibbitz summaries seems like a better version of broadcast news, with cleaner infographics and fewer puns. So really it depends on the ways in which you like to consume your media. Do you prefer video or just reading the important parts of this article?