Seattle Startup: iHear Network Is Like Your Own Personal News Radio Station INTERVIEW

A Seattle startup is revolutionizing the way you consume news. The startup is called iHear Network and their first product takes your news, tweets and other information and reads them aloud for you.  It’s a text-to-speech app that focuses on the news, information and social items you want to hear.

Their first app launched ahead of SXSW 2011 and was designed to read tweets aloud to you.  The Seattle based startup, founded by Matt Fitzsimmons, Matthew Markus and Geoff Simons has gone beyond Twitter to news and information.

We got a chance to talk with iHear Network CEO Paul Simons. Check out the interview below the break.

What is iHear Network?
iHear Network is the future of how you will access your news on your smartphone. Our first product, takes the content from your social networks and favorite news sources, and reads it to you out loud. It’s like your own personal news radio station. By unlocking new time throughout the day to stay informed, we make it easier to keep up with an ever growing amount of information.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Paul Simons – CEO. As CEO of iHear Network, Paul couples his user-centered design background with business acumen to bring meaningful products to market. Prior to joining iHear Network, Paul provided consulting services to help nonprofits better understand, organize, and learn from the data they collect. Earlier in his career, Paul showed an interest in ensuring people could access content: He served as a Technical Research Assistant for the Impact Survey, which investigated the role of public-access computers in community libraries. Paul studied information management at the University of Washington and film at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He serves on the StartupAmerica Washington steering committee, is a published photographer, and has had a film screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival
Geoff Simons – CTO. A serial software entrepreneur, Geoff’s background includes developing and applying data-mining techniques, such as textual classification, to the problem of ad targeting. Before joining iHear, Geoff was CTO and Founder at Chintano and VP of Engineering at His background also includes experiences with physics, analysis, design, and architecture. Geoff has a bachelor’s in engineering physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Matthew Markus – COO. Matthew is COO at iHear Network. An experienced technologist, Matthew has worked on a variety of complex informatics problems. Prior to joining iHear, he was a senior software engineer at InfoSpace, where he helped develop a universal shopping cart feature for American Express’s ShopAmex e-commerce site. He also co-founded, later acquired by InfoSpace, where he had a key role in planning the architecture of the company’s online electronic wallet product. Matthew earned a bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, and a master of engineering management, as well as a master’s in genetic epidemiology, from the University of Washington in St. Louis.
Where are you based?
The iHear Network world headquarters are located in Seattle, WA.

What problem does iHear Network solve?
The bigger problem we are solving is how people can best access their news and information via their smartphone. We’ve seen an evolution of computing moving from stationary to nomadic to mobile. Stationary computing provides great access to content via larger displays and reliable access to the internet (i.e. desktop computing). Nomadic computing provides access away from the desktop with slightly smaller displays and less reliable access to the internet, this is still not a truly mobile experience as you have to stop your movement to connect / access (i.e. laptops and tablets). To truly enable a mobile experience, content needs to be accessible when you are unable to see / read the display. By providing our users the means of listening we enable them to be aware of their surroundings while getting informed of what is going on in their social networks.
The primary benefit of iHear Network is that we unlock new time to access content. This can help combat information overload. We are also looking into even better ways to make iHear Network the best option to access content in your car, meaning that drivers can stay focused on the road while not being distracted by trying to sneak peaks of their smartphone display to read content.
How did you come up with the idea?
The current version of iHear Network is derivative of a product we launched in 2011. The original version of iHear Network was a SoLoMo app that read geo-located tweets. The idea behind that product was that you could better know what was going on in your neighborhood, or somewhere else you were going to travel to. The biggest problem was that the stream of information was to broad to really sustain interest. At this time there was also a growth of social news reader mobile apps (Flipboard, Zite, Pulse) that we felt did not truly take into consideration the needs of the mobile information consumer.
What’s your secret sauce?
We have the following technological advantages:

∙ Text-to-Speech (TTS) enhancements capable of #readingcompoundwords.
∙ Smooth playback of long-form text automatically extracted from web pages.
∙ Pending patent on the recommendation of geotagged items.
∙ Embedded speech recognition (coming soon).

What’s next for iHear Network

We have a few things that are in the works that we have to keep quiet. Some of the things that I can reveal that will appear in a future version of the product is better TTS voice management. We want our users to be able to experience content in whatever voice they find most captivating. We are also working on integrating additional news sources, and making it easier to create single source channels. Finally, we are working a voice user interface that will close the loop for the car commuter.


Check out iHear Network at their website here

You can see how it works on their YouTube Channel

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