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

3/25/09

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Firefox Web browsers. The Firefox plug-in and other similar systems, Day argues, don’t have the built-in intelligence of the ReadingStream technology, which customizes the presentation of words based on how humans are believed to understand them. To make his point, he apologetically uses the analogy of the iPod’s rise in the world of MP3 players.

“I don’t want to make this crude analogy but… the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player,” Days says. “But [the iPod] definitely had some usability features that differentiated it in a way that caused the entire industry to hit critical mass—and I think you can look at ReadingStream as being in that same position.”

Day also believes that ReadingStream’s arrival is timely due to the recent popularity of eBook reading on handheld devices. Take, for example, eBook reading devices such as Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle and Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, both of which have become popular platforms for casual reading over the past two years.

Still, these are early days for ReadingStream—which has been operating quietly since it was founded in early 2007—and currently it has an interesting technology without a home. The startup is open to any number of applications for the presentation system, including licensing deals that would embed its technology in eBook readers, smartphones, websites, billboards, TV shows, and other places where electronic texts are consumed. The system has been installed in a prototype handset, Day says, and the startup is in discussions with potential strategic partners.

There’s reason to be skeptical of nascent operations without a clear path to the market, but at least ReadingStream has drawn some accomplished academics and executives to its board of advisors, including Howard Stevenson, a professor at Harvard Business School who is chairman of National Public Radio, among other distinctions. Another advisor is former Harvard professor Carla Schatz, who is now head of an interdisciplinary program at Stanford University called BioX. Day, the lead advisor for ReadingStream, has been chief executive of Tangerine and former Cambridge, MA, e-commerce software developer Icomony.com. Undisclosed angel investors are backing ReadingStream.

Day sent me a demo of ReadingStream’s technology, and I must say that the presentation of the words flowed better for me than those I read with the Firefox plug-in. The Firefox system seemed to change the pace of presentation only after periods and commas, while ReadingStream made the words appear at varying intervals. Yet ReadingStream’s system will need a major distribution platform before it has any chance of becoming the iPod of rapid-reading technologies.

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