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'Swell' App Is a Pandora for Spoken Content

By Barry Levine
June 27, 2013 10:38AM

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Rather than have licensing agreements with record labels, as Pandora and other streaming music services do, Swell is accessing recordings from publicly available material, which has led some observers to compare it to an RSS reader. According to news reports, Swell is not currently paying for content, but using only available free material.
 



Suppose you like to listen to technology news on your smartphone. A new app intends to make continuous and personalized news and other spoken content as easy to get as, say, Pandora and similar apps make getting music that you'll like.

The app, introduced Thursday by a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company called Swell, learns what you like as you make choices, so that content is streamed according to a user's behavior and preferences. The company has announced content partnerships with NPR, public radio distributor American Public Media and ABC News, and it will also access top iTunes podcasts from such sources as the BBC, CBC, TED Talks, and Comedy Central. It is currently available for Apple iOS devices, an Android version is in the works, and the company said it is considering developing BlackBerry and Windows Phone versions.

Ram Ramkumar, CEO and co-founder of Swell's parent company Concept.io, said in a statement that his company's app "provides fast, easy access to quality streaming content with zero effort." The company was founded by Ramkumar, who was a co-creator of the image recognition mobile app SnapTell. Amazon bought SnapTell in 2009, incorporating the software into its mobile visual search.

Unlimited Free Listening

The app provides unlimited free listening and skips, as well as bookmarking and access to content history, a Wi-Fi-only mode in which a user can download content for later offline listening, an offline mode, and support for Bluetooth and AirPlay.

Rather than have licensing agreements with record labels, as Pandora and other streaming music services do, Swell is accessing recordings from publicly available material, which has led some observers to compare it to an RSS reader. According to news reports, Swell is not currently paying for content, but using only available free material.

In addition to learning what a user likes by the selections that are made, the app also creates preferences from content that is popular among users. Additionally, users can log on with their Twitter account and Swell can determine a user's interests from their network. Users can also instruct the app that they're interested in certain content, such as technology. Content is played continuously, so the experience is more like a customized, spoken-content radio station than a play-this-then-that podcast app.

Business Model

Ramkumar has told news media that his company, which is funded at an undisclosed amount, expects to create business models not unlike those of Pandora or Spotify, which utilize ads and premium subscriptions.

Swell is not the first app to be described as the Pandora of spoken content. There's Stitcher, for instance, which focuses on talk radio, but Stitcher requires a user to choose the content from content recommendations, while Swell just keeps it streaming.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that the market has "matured" to the point where curating playback apps for specific media, such as spoken content, can develop their own following. He said the Swell app could create "an excellent opportunity for advertisers," but, he predicted, these new ways of listening to spoken content probably will not impact how such material is created.
 

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Posted: 2013-06-27 @ 2:58pm PT
I wish I could get this on my laptop. What's the point of Windows 8 if my phone's still better?



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