When I first heard about this, it was from a tweet via WPEngine, as they played a big part in engineering this plugin and technology. and I must say that it certainly piqued my interest.
What is Amazon Polly for WordPress?
In a nutshell, it turns your text into audio. This is how WordPress.org describes it:
Amazon Polly is a service that turns text into lifelike speech. With dozens of voices across a variety of languages, you can select the ideal voice and build engaging, speech-enabled applications that work in many different countries. The Amazon Polly plugin for WordPress is a sample application that shows how WordPress creators can easily add text-to-speech capabilities to written content. You can generate an audio feed for text-based content and insert it into an embedded player to increase the accessibility of your WordPress site. The sample code also enables you to publish podcasts directly from your site and make them available for listeners in the form of podcasts.
I have been pondering whether we wanted to give it a run on our site. Well, here it is. As I get into this whole thing more, I have some specific thoughts.
Installing Amazon Polly
The actual installation isn’t that hard, but, in order to run it, you will need an AWS Amazon account. I’m not going to get into the details of connecting it with your site, but you can read more about that on the plugin page.
Here are three screenshots to give you an idea.
These are the global settings. You can set this to be on by default when creating a new post. Also, you can bulk create audios for all of your past posts. We did not toggle that on, for reasons I will explain later in this post.
There is also a spot to connect with Amazon Pollycast if you are using this for a podcast, which I will also touch on.
Here are your voice choices and languages:
And at the end of each post, you can disable or enable it, depending on what your global setting is. Plus choosing the sample rate, changing the voice name to some other name other than the default you have set, and the cost to convert.
As far as the cost, yes, you will need to use the S3 or another option in your AWS account at Amazon. But as you can see the cost to convert this post was very minimal.
What Amazon Polly Does and How We Plan on Using It
We had to think this through and decide ultimately, what it would be best for as far as our own content and users are concerned.
Accessibility & Content
For the visually impaired, the ability to have text transformed to audio is huge. And recognizing people have different learning and thinking styles, providing audio content for that population was appealing to us.
But before you jump in, you probably should ask yourself how well a post will translate into audio. I’m not talking about technical quality. I am talking about the actual content.
For us, many of our posts are tutorials. They are filled with screenshots showing the reader specific features of plugins, themes and other products. Without those screenshots, the post would be useless. You may think that there is a way around this. It would include adding optional text that would be more descriptive and take the place of the visual. There are at least a couple of ways to go:
- Going back through massive amounts of content and adding that text. But in many cases, it won’t translate well into a visual created by audio description only. And on posts with photos, is it even possible to convey the image through words only?
- Choosing what content to convert to audio and going from there.
Our choice was the latter. We have gone through all posts from the last 2-3 years and found what we felt easily worked as audio by simply converting it.
We will also consider popular posts that don’t fit that mold and might, over time, tweak more of our past content.
This leads to another question.
Wouldn’t doing this to a post make it redundant and unreadable?
Yes, but Amazon Polly has that covered (although it does take extra work). It allows you to insert tags that will do this. You will be able to hide text in the post and have it only added to the audio. And, you can choose what text you want to visibly show in the post that is not recorded in the audio.
Here is a screenshot that shows this. Once I save and toggle Amazon Polly to record the tags and appropriate text, it will not show on the post for your readers.
Your Content, Your Voice
This is where it gets a bit more personal. Though the voices are considered more human sounding, it’s still not your voice. You may even envision it as more useful around a news blog or one that offers posts that are more article-based, or even white papers.
Since I do a lot of podcasting, people are used to my voice. But should that rule my decision? Should I assume that since it’s not my voice in the audio, they won’t like it?
Likely not. In the case of our posts and how they are written, the fact of making some of them accessible with audio wins out.
I Can’t Imagine Podcasts Using Amazon Polly
This is the one piece I cannot wrap my brain around. Even in the description from the plugins site, it compares it to a podcast. I’ve seen tweets about what a great option it would be for podcasters. Sure, for many, it would be a huge time-saver and let them dive into the world of podcasts by simply writing the show.
But in the end, podcasts are done by people. You grow to love a podcast by forming a connection to that podcaster. And if the podcast is interview style, well, throw Amazon Polly out of window. I don’t care if your voice is podcast perfect. Can you imagine tuning into a Morgan Freeman podcast and hearing a voice from Amazon Polly? Okay, that is an extreme, but you get my point.
Podcasts are about the host’s personality, the banter and the interaction.
Now the only way I could see this working is, again, on a news site. Broadcasting stories. But wait, don’t we enjoy listening to our favorite anchor-person or reporter?
Will it replace any of our podcasts?
Will we use it in any sense of the word?
That depends on what you view it as. I have organized all audio content under one category, including both our podcasts and posts converted by Amazon Polly. And yes, I have created a feed for our Amazon Polly-powered posts that people can subscribe to via iTunes. Why? Again, it boils down to accessibility and choice.
Yes, Amazon Polly Has Found Its Home on BobWP
Everything I have touched on here you will now find on our site. For now this is our plan. I can only wonder what the future might hold for this plugin. Will it work with pages or custom post types? Is there a need? What about eCommerce plugins? The list goes on and on.
We are adding an Audio Post link to our menu at the bottom of page. This will include all posts and any other audio content we have outside our podcasts, which can be found via their own link.
We hope that this provides an option that many will find useful, and would love to hear your thoughts. And of course, you will find the audio at the beginning of this post. Enjoy!
An audio option for this post.