February 18th, 2011 by

It wasn’t so long ago that I found myself driving due east. In a break between jobs I decided to take a trip and see a different part of the country. It’s amazing how different things are when we leave the familiar and explore new places. One way to gauge these variations is on the radio. Some places play a lot of latin songs, others play gospel music, and then there was a whole lot of country music.

Keeping in touch with the latest buzz is fun and helps you become familiar with what’s going on. Whether radio, TV, newspaper, or people down at the coffee shop, it’s nice to know get a feel for what’s happening in and area. With the advent of Twitter’s geolocation feature, tweets can now be associated with the place they were sent from. It was only a matter of time before people capitalized on this and created tools to monitor the tweets in specific areas. One of the early forerunners in this is iHear Network. iHear Network is an Android app that plays audio recording of tweets specific to a location. It gives you real time insight into what’s being said, anywhere in the world.

iHear Network

iHear Network

The way it works is you install the free application to your phone, then indicate the location you’d like to tune into. Once set up it will start playing the tweets. The magic that turns the tweets to audio called text-to-speech software. It allows you to adjust the speed, pitch and volume of the voice and select either American or British accents. For those who prefer a different voice you have the option to install alternate text to speech software. Just pick your favorite semi robotic voice and have at it.

By default it will play back local tweets, but you can adjust it to anywhere in the world.  You can also adjust the radius of the tweet field. Think of it as a fishing net. You can cast as broad or narrow a net as you would like. You can also replay or skip them if you come across ones you like or dislike, respectively. Let’s say you happen to be in the middle of Nebraska and you get a message announcing free ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s. You don’t quite catch the address, so you replay it to make sure you know where to exit the freeway. (We couldn’t come up with another reason to exit the freeway in Nebraska.)

iHear Network has already been listed in the top 101 Android apps. Not content with the status quo, in a recent press release they announced their intention to integrate other information sources as well. Future versions of the app will pull from geotagged sources such as Wikipedia. The combined experience will give people a more complete feel for an area.

iHear Network- Android

iHear Network- Android

iHear Network’s mantra is to allow you to hear what other people are saying about an area. If you want to listen in on a new area, just “teleport” there. The user forum lists user requests, one of which is to filter based upon topics of interest. That might be a good idea, though it could detract from the experience of learning about a location, unfiltered. Given the prevalence of the forum on the site I’m sure some ideas will make their way to production.

Traveling across the US was a fantastic experience. I learned about various towns the old school way- with the radio, car, and my feet. Walking around was really a neat way to see a town. But having the ability to play back tweets and other information about a place would be very useful. It gives a perspective you can’t get anywhere else. iHear Network is a fun, free way to explore an area and get a glimpse of its people and events.

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