Re: BrowseAloud opinions sought

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A re-post of this message.   One of you will know why, and I'm curious
as to what hapens next.

Does anyone else have experience of messages disappearing from Google's
archive, particularly when they're less than positive about a company's
product ?

Path: sn-us!sn-post-01!!!not-for-mail
Subject: Re: BrowseAloud opinions sought
Date: Fri, 14 May 2004 01:03:41 +0100
Organization: Codesmiths, UK
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On 13 May 2004 08:23:25 -0700, (Andy Dingley)

Quoted text here. Click to load it

First of all, when cold-calling potential users, it's polite for the
person making the call to have a vague understanding of the product. I
don't mind the call (their targetting was reasonable), but I do mind
calls where the caller doesn't know anything, everything they claim to
know is wrong, and by the end of the call I've worked out more about
the product for myself than they could tell me. In particular, the
call gets off to a bad start if you tell me that your product is
pretty much the exact opposite of what it really does.

It's a mouse-focussed screen reader.   Move the mouse over some text,
and it reads out the sentence or phrase. Cute. Works well enough, as
far as it goes.

Underlying tech is the L&H speech engine, which I'm sure many of us
will have played with on the free download M$oft Agent (Merlin and
friends. Give it a try, it's not the nasty old paperclip).

Their gimmick is the price model. Users get a screen reader for free,
site publishers get speech added to their site for no technical effort
and a small annual charge. This is an interesting approach, and it has
some merit.

Installation is as a one-off download of a .exe. No ActiveX controls,
no changes to the site at all. The only technical implementation
required is to add your address to a central database of enabled
sites, and maybe a link to the download site for getting the control.

Supported platforms are Windows and IE. Navigator is also listed, but
they weren't clear on versions. Neither are Mozilla, Opera, Firefox
etc. mentioned.  Mac and Unix can forget it.

It's not a screen reader though. This tech is of no use at all if you
want your entire pages read back to you.

I can't tell who this product is really aimed at. It's useless for the
blind - it is _not_ a page reader. Using it at all requires good fine
motor control, so it's barely usable by most elderly people, let alone
anyway with a movement disability.  They mention dyslexia, but you'd
have to have quite serious dyslexia before the quality of this deeply
average text synth could do better than you could yourself. It
certainly struggles with many less-than commonplace words.

The sentence detector is annoyingly poor. When placed over text, it
reads it. It tries to read a whole sentence, no matter where the mouse
is. Unfoortunately it stops on links, so a sentence with embedded
links in it can only be read out in chunks, with a mouse adjustment to
get each one.

Even though we're all finally getting the message about building
accessible sites, this reader does nothing with the information. You
can mark up your title attributes all you like, this thing just
ignores them.  As far as I could see, it works by the screen
presentation alone. An alt attribute on an image or link is used, but
only when it's first popped into a visible tooltip.

My first gripe was completely in error, and was due to the way their
sales guy presented it. Despite his assertions, you do _not_ need to
change your site code, nor do they "host your site on their servers
for you" (!).

I'm still unhappy at the way they use the W3C as a reference site, and
they quote STB-L on their homepage as in some way advocating this
technique. Although accessibility is good, and even weak accessibility
tools are still a vaguely positive thing, they are clearly ignoring
all the efforts on real open-standards based accessibility through
improved markup.

My second gripe is that this thing just isn't very good.  Why can't it
read the whole page to me ?  Why is sentence selection so broken that
it looks as if they've never done any usability testing ?  And the
voice grates.

As to their own site, then I'd be reluctant to be any accesibility
product from someone with such broken markup and such blatant
ignorance of accessibility.  Sorry guys, but put your own house in
order first.

It's a neat idea.  Maybe it really is a good business model to make
speech affordable for both parties. I'm not buying this version

Smert' spamionam

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