Blogging from Walden Woods with Utterz

9/17/07Follow @wroush

Would Henry David Thoreau have been a blogger? I think he might have been. And if he’d had a cell phone and a voice blogging service like Utterz—launched today by Maynard, MA, startup RPM Communications—he could have blogged all of Walden right from his little cabin in the woods.

Thoreau is on my brain because I’m finishing this column on my MacBook from the shore of Walden Pond, a hundred yards from the site of said cabin. I can hear the MBTA commuter train rumbling past in the distance. The same rail line was active when Thoreau lived here from 1845 to 1847. Obviously, there weren’t any MacBooks, electrical plugs, or batteries around here in Thoreau’s day. But imagining that he’d had a way to record his own spoken thoughts and get them out to the world instantaneously (at www.walden.org, of course), I bet he would have loved it.

That’s what Utterz does, and after a few days of pre-launch testing I’m already taking a liking to it. As someone who blogs both professionally and personally, I know that I’m sometimes moved to sit down with my laptop and write something serious and contemplative. Other times I’d just like to post something short and spontaneous, without even bothering to find a computer or an Internet connection where I can log into my blogging service (WordPress for Xconomy, TypePad for my personal blog). With Utterz, I can simply call up 712-432-MOOO (432-6666) and talk for as long as I want. The service will automatically post the audio clip to the blog or social-networking site of my choice, in the form of a widget that can be embedded as a sidebar or directly in a post. (Click here for a widget with some sample Utterz I recorded here at Walden Woods.)

Utterz LogoWhile the voice blogging feature is the centerpiece of Utterz, it can also handle text, video, and photos. When you register with Utterz you program it with your cell phone number and e-mail address. Then if you mail a photo from your phone to go@utterz.com, it will automatically match it with your most recent audio clip and display them together. All of this works seamlessly. A phone call or e-mail is literally all that’s needed to broadcast what you’re thinking or seeing to the world.

“We’re leveraging your cell phone to let you create, access, and manage content on the Web and share it with friends and with your social networks from anywhere, at any time, regardless of your carrier or your type of phone,” says Michael Bayer, CEO of RPM. Today’s a big day for Bayer’s company, which also announced that it has closed a $4 million series A funding round, led by Menlo Park, CA-based Morgenthaler Ventures.

The company makes money by collecting a small fee from cellular carriers each time a customer calls 712-432-MOOO. “It’s good for the carriers because it’s minutes used,” says Morgenthaler partner Greg Blonder. “And if you wind up using more minutes than you would normally, you might buy the next plan up.”

Will Utterz catch on? It’s hard to say. Tools for mobile blogging, or “moblogging,” have been around for years. TypePad and other blogging platforms, for example, offer users the ability to post directly to their blogs via e-mail. Audioblogger, launched in 2003, was one of the first services that let you call a phone number and make an MP3 recording that would then be posted to your blog, where visitors could listen to your recording online or download the file. Audioblogger was discontinued in 2006, but other sites such as Gabcast, Hipcast, Gcast, and Jott offer similar capabilities.

Yet most blogs are still 99 percent text, perhaps with a few pictures thrown in. Given that most everyone who blogs probably also owns a perfectly good moblogging device (i.e., a cell phone), there are only two obvious explanations for why audio moblogging hasn’t really taken off as a sub-genre.

One is that people view blogs as a primarily text-based medium, and that they don’t have a burning desire to create or consume audio posts. This explanation could turn out to be the right one. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell without first eliminating the other potential explanation, which is that the existing tools for getting an audio clip onto a blog are too clumsy and complex.

Utterz should provide a good test of the second explanation. It’s so easy to use that if it doesn’t take off, that will be a pretty good indication that the companies offering audio blogging tools have miscalculated, and that there just isn’t much of a demand for this particular service. But I’m betting that it will succeed, at least among the subset of people who keep or read blogs but also enjoy more personal and immediate forms of communication such as instant messaging, SMS text messaging, Twitter, and picture-mail on cellular carriers like Verizon and Sprint.

Thoreau may have gone to the woods to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” but he was no hermit, and I think he would have found something to like about the Internet. If we’re lucky, some modern Thoreau is blogging (or Uttering) right now from the slums of Kolkata or the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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