Text-to-Speech, Personalized for the Holidays

Online greeting cards have long been a staple of Internet social networking, but the extent to which they can be personalized has largely been limited to text missives. Internet startup MakeBeliever.com seeks to change that by incorporating text-to-speech technology into its V-Greetings, electronic video greeting cards featuring live humans that, via a combination of proprietary technology and Acapela’s speech synthesis, seem to speak directly to recipients.

This being the Christmas season, its first offerings is a card featuring, who else, but Santa Claus himself. To concatenate the jolly St. Nick’s voice, MakeBeliever uses a database of specific tones, words, and inflections recorded by Acapela. While a majority of Santa’s dialogue, spoken on the video by an actor, is prerecorded, drop-down menus offer a number phrases for Santa to utter at predetermined times. A step-by-step form shows  where in the prewritten script the personal data will appear.

So when a man sends a greeting to his naughty girlfriend, Santa can explain why exactly the girlfriend has been naughty. The drop-down box even lists "leaves the toilet seat down" as an option.  If the girlfriend’s fault isn’t listed, the user can write it himself in the text box, which will send it through the TTS engine. 

Despite the current limitations to TTS technology, 65 percent of users leverage the TTS option for increased customization, according to MakeBeliever cofounders Ted Taggart and Dave Wallace.

"Adults users notice the difference between recorded versus TTS content," they write in a joint email. "That is simply a limitation of the TTS technology as it exists today. For this entertainment-based application, the typical response is that it does not denigrate from the impact of the experience, and in some cases, actually makes the delivery a bit more humorous!" 

Children—the prime target for this service—don’t notice the difference as readily. Taggart and Wallace add: "Children hear Santa sharing facts about them that only Santa could know and are enthralled and mesmerized by the experience." Nonetheless, they say that MakeBeliever continues to monitor advances in TTS to close the disparity as much as possible. 

Depending on the featured options, V-Greetings cost between $3.99 to $9.99 each. For now, revenue is generated by paying customers, though MakeBeliever is exploring options for site advertising and product placement.

In 2008, MakeBeliever will expand its offerings with Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and birthday notices. It also intends to include other languages.

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