As I type this, there are currently 3000 odd articles in my Instapaper queue. Now, I’m not kidding myself. I’ve accepted that I’m never going to get through that list. Pocket Zero is a nice theory and all, but it’s not for me.
Still, in those 3000 articles are some gems I really don’t want to miss out on. For example, the 57 minute long piece from Matter titled SELFIE (I’m halfway through and it’s really good). And there are many more.
Now, if a story has been buried for two to three weeks, I usually let it go. But recently, I’ve been “star”ing the articles I really don’t want to miss, and I’ve been using text-to-speech to get through them.
Yes, it’s not perfect. It’s not even close to perfect but it will do. I loved loved loved Umano – the app that would catalog popular news and feature stories read by professional voice over artists. It was a great time to be alive. But sadly Umano is no more. So we’ll have to make do with text-to-speech. Not bad, just fine, text-to-speech.
Instapaper and Pocket
Both Instapaper and Pocket have the text-to-speech feature built-in. You’ll find them under the options menu. The text-to-speech voice will depend on the app and the platform you’re using. I’ve found the iOS TTS voices to be a bit better.
Sidebar: If you aren’t using a read-later service like Instapaper or Pocket, you really should get started. Especially if you think you’re missing out on a lot of web articles. These apps are a bucket where the articles will be stored for offline reading.
Feature wise, you can speed up or slow down the speech. Once you’ve gotten used to it, choosing 1.5x speed can be a great way to plow through your articles during your daily commute.
Another really cool thing about TTS in Instapaper is that it highlights the sentence or phrase that’s being spoken (Pocket doesn’t have this). Sometimes, late at night, when I’m reading in bed while I really shouldn’t be, I use this feature to keep me paced. You can also do this when you’re reading something boring or something you need to get through.
The fact that TTS is speaking the text and it’s highlighted keeps both your ears and eyes engaged. And if you miss something when it’s been spoken, it can be picked up by your glorious eyes. Of course, you have no kind of scientific data to back this up, but in my experience, I’ve found this tag team effort to be very helpful.
Narro is a really interesting, albeit new tool. So if you’re reading this in the future – a week or an year from now, chances are that it no longer exists.
If you’re a podcast fan, and you already have a podcast client installed, you’ll get a lot out of Narro.
What it does is, it turns your reading list into a podcast. Each article that you add to Narro’s reading list becomes an episode “narrated” by the text-to-speech engine. I’ve tried it recently and it worked surprisingly well. Especially when you put in articles written in a light or conversational style. Basically anything from Nimish will do.
If you’ve got a podcast client installed already, setting up Narro will be a piece of cake.
Once you’re signed up for Narro, you can install the Chrome extension, the bookmarklet or the iOS app. When you’re browsing and come across an article you’d rather listen to later, just hit the bookmarklet and it will be added to your reading list.
The other part of the puzzle is how you’re going to access all those articles from your podcast client. It’s as easy as copying the RSS link that Narro gives you and subscribing to it in your podcast client of choice (find out how here).
The articles will then show up instantly. Download or stream them to start playback.
The free account only lets you listen to 20 articles per month. But you can upgrade to the $7.99/month plan to remove the limit and get access to features like directly importing the Pocket reading list and more.
Alternative: Listening From The Web
If you want to listen to articles while you’re on your PC, there are quite a few options available for Chrome. You can try the Speakit! extension or Select and Speak extension from iSpeech.
If you’re an iOS user, you can enable an accessibility option that will allow you to listen to any selected text. Learn how to enable it here.
Bonus: Highlighted Text Thing
If you want to actually “read” through your reading list (come on, really?), you might want to look into BeeLine Chrome extension. It uses some totally legit science that adds a color gradient to the text you’re reading. Which makes it easier for your brain to follow along the text and makes it less likely to be distracted (oh look, Reddit!).
I tried it out, but It didn’t work for me. Mainly because the extension was adding a gradient to every – single – thing – on the internet. Including Facebook posts. A way to manually invoke the gradient on a particular article would be nice.
Anyhow, if you think this might work for you, feel free to try it out. Also, have you every tried speed reading? It’s what all super humans are doing. And you should feel really bad about yourself that you’re not one of those people.
Bonus Bonus: Lots and Lots of Third Party Apps
While I personally was never able to find a third party voice reading app that stuck, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them out. For me, just the fact that Instapaper and Pocket have TTS built-in is enough.