Wonder Tools — Lots of launches this week

A look at Descript, Grain, Vowel and more. Plus new versions of Photoshop and Evernote. Here's a take on what's notable.

Welcome to the Oct 22 version of a weekly note I write about sites, apps and digital services I find useful 🎨 and how and why they’re helpful. I’m Jeremy Caplan, a journalist and director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

It’s debut season for digital tools. Lots of notable products launched this week.

  • Adobe announced a fresh version of Photoshop 📸 with so-called neural filters to enable new kinds of automated edits.

  • A major overhaul of Evernote 🐘 also landed, a revamp of the once-leading note-taking tool that had fallen stale. I amassed thousands of notes in Evernote years ago, but have since moved my note-taking to Roam, where notes are interconnected in a more modern paradigm. More on that in a future post.  

  • In addition, a cool team productivity tool called Slite released a new iteration.

  • A Zoom alternative called Vowel joined a crowd of new video conferencing competitors👩🏾‍💻. 

  • Pitch, a great new presentation tool I wrote about last week, officially launched.

    Suggest a tool I should cover

Two other new launches I’m excited about this week both combine text with video in creative ways. Here’s more on both.

Descript

Descript is a magical multimedia editor. It takes any audio or video file you give it and spits out a transcript. Then you can edit the audio or video just by editing the text, as illustrated in this little gif.

Until this week, Descript was mainly a neat transcription service with a slick audio-editing tool. Now, you can use it to edit video as well, just by editing transcribed words. Or even by adding words. There’s an incredible feature called Overdub, which allows you to fix an error in your audio or video without re-recording. Just edit the text and the software automatically fixes your error with revised words, simulating your voice. Or use stock voices to automatically add voiceover to a video just by typing in what you want the voice to say.  The amazing automatic voice generation is powered by technology developed by Lyrebird, which Descript acquired.

Listen to this little demo I made of Descript’s automated speech generation in action. Feel free to annotate the recording if you have thoughts about artificial voice generation. You can play with the voice generation service here.

Overdub requires a pro plan at $24/month. Descript’s free plan lets you try out its tools, and there’s a mid-level plan for $12/month with unlimited projects and 10 hours of transcription per month. Below is a video peek at how Descript video-editing works.

Grain

Recordings of lengthy Zoom meetings are essentially useless if no one watches them. So Grain makes it easy to clip and share highlights. I used it this week to share with students a 1-minute highlight from a live class session, and with a colleague a comment he made that was memorable. Along those lines Grain’s CEO shared a 30-second clip from a recent meeting he had.

The video below offers a fuller intro to how Grain can be useful in sharing key meeting moments.  

To use Grain, you link it to your Zoom account. Then open Grain during a Zoom meeting you’re recording and a little note-taking window pops up. Use it to take live notes or annotate the meeting as you go.

After the meeting, Grain serves up a transcript synched to the video recording, with your notes and annotations to remind you of key comments. You can highlight any notable moments from the transcript and share a video clip—of that moment— with anyone you’d like. Or paste a link into a Slack channel, a team doc, or anywhere you’d like. Rather than having to sit through a re-run of an entire meeting or event, people can just view the key bits you want them to see. 

Before landing on Grain I had tried another Zoom transcription tool recently called Fireflies.ai, but found it clunky. So to get meeting transcripts I had been going to Otter.ai and hitting record in the browser while a Zoom meeting was running. (Still a useful option). But Grain and Vowel offer slicker approaches. Like Grain, Vowel offers transcript-sharing functionality. But rather than resting on Zoom, it relies on its own video meeting software. I’m looking forward to testing out its new functionality. 

Thanks for reading. If you have a tip to share or a question I can be of help with—or just want to say hi— hit reply.

best, Jeremy