I just spent an hour kicked back watching Qwiki, the winners of this year's TechCrunch event, after the site opened up some beta accounts today. The company says it provides an "information experience" but for now, it's mostly a fancy photo slideshow and a text to speech engine reading Wikipedia entries. That's pretty entertaining though!

The Qwiki website is a proof-of-concept for the company's developer platform, which will add the automatic creation of image and speech experiences to any text published elsewhere. The website currently lets you search through 2 million entries on people, places and things. It's a fun way to pass the time, though there are some more tricks (and many more pronunciations) the service still needs to learn. It's also quite frustrating that the entries aren't longer than they are - typically about 60 seconds, or the first 3 or 4 paragraphs on the Wikipedia entries they seem to be based on.

The prospect of having this kind of experience elsewhere is quite compelling. The text to speech is pretty good and not hard for me at least to listen to. I would love to be able to create playlists and watch straight through them, but navigating around related entries is fun as well.

The integration of Google Maps and the creation of a timeline from any dates discovered, is smart. There are probably any number of other smart things that could be incorporated logically as well. For example: if the entry I'm watching corresponds with a large number of YouTube videos, pause the presentation and play 30 seconds from the most popular one at a logical point in the timeline. There are many, many possibilities.

Not everyone likes Qwiki who has tested it, but I found listening to a text, with images moving around on my screen in sync with the voice, was a great way to explore some information.

The company says it "is working to deliver information in a format that's quintessentially human - via storytelling instead of search." Future content types that will be Qwiki-ized include dating content (in that robot voice? I don't know...), local search, real-estate content and more.

Right now the output is in Flash, but it's not hard to imagine consuming Qwiki content on an iPad. Better yet, let me navigate that site with Microsoft Kinect.