Witter! Sounding off about the next big thing

Forget 140 characters of text, TweetVox gives you 120 seconds of speech

If you think Twitter is annoying, just think how much worse it would be if you could hear it. Well, now you can. A new microblogging site has taken the concept of Twitter, and added sound. It's called TweetVox, though already some are calling it "Witter". It was launched in London and Paris last week, and, as with any internet craze, world domination is planned, with launches scheduled for Spain and Japan.

The idea is simple. With Twitter, you give the world your pearl of wisdom in 140 characters of text; with TweetVox, you record it in no more than two minutes of sound. You then upload the file on to Facebook or Twitter, and wait for your friends and colleagues to respond.

"TweetVox puts the voice at the heart of the social network," says Guillaume Odriosolo, director of the project. "We've seen how people like to exchange ideas on Facebook and Twitter. We have also found a growing demand for audio files. TweetVox combines the two. It puts back the human element into microblogging, because the voice gives warmth and emotion."

Anyone who downloads the TweetVox app on to their phone can also make their "tweet voxes" location-specific. So, for example, you might sing the Marseillaise and tag it to the Arc de Triomphe. "It gives a voice to a place," says Mr Odriosolo, 30, explaining that users will be able to record a review of a restaurant as they walk out, and tag it for future visitors to hear. "Before going into a museum, you can listen to the audio reviews left by other visitors. Or you could listen to a professional audio guide via the app. We're sure that TweetVox's users will appreciate its simplicity, and the added value it will give to their day-to-day usage of social networks."

Others are not so sure. Rhodri Marsden, a technology columnist for The Independent, says Twitter can only work as text. "All the things that are good about Twitter, like the rapid exchange of messages and the ability to track back through a conversation, and the ability to search, none of these exists as soon as you turn it into audio," he says. "The fact that Twitter is silent is part of its appeal, because people can tweet while they're watching telly, which has become a big thing. That can't happen with an audio medium."

John Rentoul, chief political commentator of The Independent on Sunday, and our most prolific tweeter, is also sceptical, but warned that writing it off could be dangerous. "It sounds awful," he says. "But then, when Facebook launched, I said it would never take off. Even Twitter sounds like a dreadful idea, and look how successful that's been."

The concept of micro audio-blogging has been tried before. In 2009, Mark Rock launched Audioboo, in which users can record clips of up to five minutes. He received some funding from Channel 4. But TweetVox has been created by Orange, the mobile phone giant, which is hoping it has struck on the next big digital craze.

The biggest challenge could be convincing the sceptics. "I can't imagine loads of people piling in," says Mr Marsden, though he admits to using Audioboo. "The problem is if TweetVox is comparing itself to Twitter, because you'll never get that rapid exchange of views. If you listen to someone say their thing, then you've got to stop, press record, and say your thing – it seems quaintly old-fashioned, in a weird way."

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