Summary: “Voice first” describes apps that people interact with by speaking and listening. “Voice first fiction” offers a brand new opportunity for authors to share fictional content through the new generation of smart speakers. So what’s voice first fiction all about?
Voice first is the term being used to describe apps that people interact with by speaking and listening. The primary way people engage with voice first apps is by talking to an intelligent assistant via a smart speaker or smartphone.
Brian Roemmele is credited with coining the voice first term. Just as the phrase mobile first became popular following a spike in smartphone adoption, voice first as a design philosophy is made possible by advances in AI-based technologies–chief among these being Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Processing (NLP)–and the rapid adoption of smart speakers.
Starting in about 2009, mobile first became a call to action. Developers and content creators were told to shift gears from desktops and towards mobile devices. Otherwise they risked losing their audience.
Building successful mobile first apps turned out to be a lot harder than expected. It wasn’t just a matter of wrapping an existing website in a responsive, mobile-friendly design. Those who figured out how to leverage mobile platforms to create a new, improved user experience reaped significant rewards.
Creative people entering the voice first world are faced with the same challenge and opportunity. Converting content from a visual first paradigm to a compelling voice first design is anything but straightforward. While this challenge impacts all content creators, the risks and rewards of conquering voice first may be greatest for writers of fiction.
Voice first fiction is narrative content specifically designed to be shared via a speech-enabled intelligent assistant. (I don’t know if anyone else has used this term before, but I feel that we need a recognized term to describe the new world of spoken NLP-enabled narrative that we’re entering, so voice first fiction is what I propose).
Interactive fiction is not new. There are proven techniques for involving a reader in the course of a narrative. The most well-known such technique is perhaps the branching narrative (commonly referred to as Choose Your Own Adventure stories – registered trademark of Chooseco LLC).
What is new, however, is something that essentially acts like an intelligent book with agency. This intelligent book, in the form on an AI-enabled intelligent assistant, can hear and understand the reader, respond in its own voice, and take actions based on reader input. At the same time, there are still serious constraints in what this intelligent book can understand and accomplish.
The world of voice first fiction is just emerging. The earliest experiments in AI-assisted voice-driven narrative are starting to sprout from the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant platforms. The possibilities are vast. The opportunities for authors can hardly be overstated.
On this website, I plan to share thoughts and observations about this emerging domain. Apart from writing here, I’m a founding member of Tellables, a company seeking to help shape the future of narrative-driven voice first stories and story games.