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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Speak2Tweet and Living voices: direct to your ears

By Melissa Bell
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(Valerie Loiseleux)

Although the connection was shaky, you could still hear the passion and building joy in the man's voice as he said in Arabic: "I call to all those young people, to each and everyone who took part in making this great revolution come true, it has given so much to Egypt."

Ramadan Al-Diyar went on to speak for three minutes from Saudia Arabia, praising the military and the martyrs of the revolution. "I can't wait to kiss its earth. When I return to Egypt, I will kneel down and kiss the earth beneath my feet. Long live Egypt. Long live Egypt!"

Al-Diyar was not interviewed by a journalist; he recorded his remarks on his own, using an old technology: the common answering machine.

His message was then uploaded onto the Internet and distributed globally via Speak2Tweet, a forum created amid the revolution by an Egyptian Google employee in partnership with Twitter.

Speak2Tweet allowed anyone anywhere to dial a phone number and leave a message the whole world could hear.

During events that captivated the world, the use of voice added a movingly direct way to hear the souls crying out for freedom in Tahrir Square, to paraphrase President Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.

Voice-uploading technology has been around for some years, but it's been slow to catch on in social media and on news sites, aside from podcasts. Recently, however, its reach has been expanding. With an eye toward the future, Google just purchased SpeakNow, which enabled the use of voices from Egyptians who called Speak2Tweet. The company AudioBoo is partnering with several media companies to upload readers' voices to news sites; and SoundCloud, which offers similar technology, just hit 3 million registered users on its Web site.<

During the same week that voices were emanating from the Arab world, the PostSecret blog run by Frank Warren out of Germantown began hosting voice-mail messages of a different kind. Uploaded by relatives and friends using SoundCloud, the voice-mail messages recorded by people who have died are finding a new life in a project titled "LivingVoices."

One woman uploaded a message left by her grandmother singing her a birthday song. Six days later another reader responded: "I have tears streaming down my cheeks, the happy kind and a few of the sad kind."

Happy Birthday - LivingVoice by PostSecret

Warren is a big fan of merging the timelessly human with modern technology. His site started in 2005 when he asked people to mail their secrets to him, written anonymously on postcards. For six years, he's curated millions of these messages -- from the silly to the devastating. LivingVoices sprung up from one of the secrets: "When people I love leave voice mails on my phone, I always save them in case they die tomorrow and I have no other way of hearing their voice ever again."

Judi Dickerson is not one to underestimate the power of the human voice. As a dialect coach for movies such as "Gladiator" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," she's spent her life listening to words work their magic in the mouths of great actors. To her, the human voice has been been sadly lost in the typed computer transaction.

"We're all living life, which is profound and dangerous and funny and sad. Just writing, or just tweeting, is a step removed from the immediacy of . . . interfacing with people," Dickerson says.

An optimist, Warren sees the inclusion of voice as a sign that the Internet is becoming more human -- capable of fostering not just connection, but empathy and kindness between strangers.

"There's this new kind of community coming together. And we're just taking baby steps with it," he says.

From my Style column Web Insites.

By Melissa Bell  | February 23, 2011; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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