Mobile

Winston: A digital butler that reads your news and social media updates aloud

Like one part Siri and one part morning news update, a new app called Winston could change the way you consume news online.

Launching today on the iPhone for free, Winston reads aloud recent news and social media updates through a distinguished electronic English accent. The app summarizes news to highlight the juicy bits, and it also translates your Twitter and Facebook updates into easily absorbed nuggets (ignoring hashtags, abbreviations, and the usual social media mess).

Think of it like an NPR news brief mixed together with a news reading app like Pulse, and you’ll get an idea of what Winston’s developer Reactor Labs is up to.

“There are plenty of times during the day when we realized people can’t read a screen,” Reactor Labs co-founder and chief executive Aaron Ting told VentureBeat in an interview last week.

In particular, Ting and his team built Winston with a typical wake up experience in mind — when you’ll likely be groggy, and may only need a quick summary of breaking news and weather. (Gorgeous imagery plays alongside the stories, though it’s not entirely necessary to watch.) The app also sports Airplay support, so you can easily throw its updates over to an Airplay speaker or Apple TV as you’re eating breakfast.

Reactor Labs plans to eventually allow Winston to access your daily agenda and add voice commands, both of which will make Winston seem even more like a loyal butler. Ting notes that Winston also sorts every bit of content it receives through semantic analysis, and it pays attention to the content you interact with. Basically, it’s always getting smarter.

In my brief testing, I found Winston to be gorgeously designed and I loved its approach to news clips. Even though it summarizes news posts, it generally does a great job of delivering the most relevant information. Winston was less successful with social media updates, often getting hung up on Twitter user names and the actual intent of particular updates. When it did work, Winston’s social media summaries were also fairly uninformative, with updates like “Joe tweeted about Facebook,” and “Jane had something negative to say about Twitter.”

But Winston is yet young, so I’m confident Reactor Labs can iron out its social media kinks. There have been other attempts at apps that read aloud your news, like Voice Brief and Read it Aloud, but Winston’s combination of smart summarizing technology and semantic analysis makes it far more compelling than anything that has come before.

Reactor Labs is based in Boulder, Colorado and has raised $750,000 in seed funding from Forest Ventures.


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