Smarter Speed-Reading: ReadingStream Explores New Ways to Help the Brain Process Text

3/25/09

Like a growing number of Americans, I do most of my reading in front of a laptop or handheld screen. And though I think I read electronic texts a good deal faster than the average person—who by several accounts reads between 200 and 250 words per minute on a screen—I’m open to any technology that could help me breeze through 1,000 words in a minute. ReadingStream, a stealthy Boston startup with a new system for reading electronic texts, says that reading online texts at that clip isn’t out of reach.

The startup and its technology were introduced to me last week by tech entrepreneur Aaron Day, the CEO of Boston-based corporate weight-management firm Tangerine Wellness, who is serving as chairman of an advisory board at ReadingStream. The firm’s founders—CEO Eileen Shapiro and Joshua Kriger—have developed software that rapidly presents single words and images in the middle of a screen, with the time each word or image spends onscreen dictated by 60 psycholinguistic characteristics such as how concrete the meaning is and how common its usage is. Basically, the system strives to reflect how the brain processes text rather than trying to make the brain fit the technology. For example, the widely used word “red” may appear more briefly than the word “onomatopoeia,” which is seldom used in everyday speech and has an abstract meaning The goal is to help people read quicker while boosting their comprehension. (See a demo of the technology on YouTube at the end of this story.)

The patent-pending algorithms used to factor in these psycholinguistics are intended to be major differentiators between ReadingStream’s technology and the droves of so-called rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) systems, which have been around for years and also quickly present words one or a few at a time. In fact, one such system is available as a free plug-in for Mozilla … Next Page »

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