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The Web of the Future Wants to Hear What You Have to Say

Please speak slowly and clearly. Image: Vikramdeep Sidhu/Flickr

Earlier this year Google’s Chrome web browser added preliminary support for voice commands, opening the door to a voice-driven future where you can browse the web, send an e-mail or post to Twitter all without touching a mouse, trackpad or screen.

Naturally there’s a considerable way to go before this vision of a voice-driven web browser is a reality, but if you’d like to see one early experiment check out developer Jordan Moore’s voice driven demo page.

Moore’s page uses voice input to control things like font size, page color and line-height. Try saying “Make it darker,” “Make the text larger” or, for some scrolling Comic Sans, “Clown Mode”.

You’ll need the latest version of Chrome to see the demo in action since that’s the only browser that currently supports Google’s proposed Web Speech API. You’ll also need to click the microphone icon at the top of the page to activate voice input. As Moore notes, you currently “can’t bind an input to the speech input field.” That’s probably a good idea for security/privacy reasons, but it does detract somewhat from the vision of a purely voice-powered web.

Moore’s demo is creative and fun to play with and it hints at a voice-controlled web of the future, but it also showcases just how far away that future remains.

While Google’s voice transcriber (which converts your speech to text behind the scenes) is fast, it’s still not very good. It struggled with many of my deliberate, slowly spoken commands — struggled enough in fact that I doubt it would work at all for anyone with a strong accent, let alone non-native speakers. (Moore says it was “incredibly difficult to test voice commands with a Northern Irish accent.”)

Moore is the first to admit that voice-driven apps like his experiment aren’t ready for prime time. “I’m not sure of the practicality of this experiment right now,” he writes. “But I can see voice commands becoming a bigger part of what we do in the near future.”

As Moore notes, now is the time for experimentation. It’s a time for developers to try out new ideas and discover how voice commands might fit with and perhaps even rearrange the web as we know it. “Let’s think of the possibilities and other situations this might apply to,” Moore suggests, “We can have a bit of fun with this.”