Category Archives: Reading

Charlie Rose on the iPad with Guests David Carr, Walt Mossberg and Mike Arrington

While watching the Charlie Rose show a week ago I saw this interesting interview about the iPad. It is definitely worth a watch for anyone in the media industry.


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Who Said Books Had to be Written on Paper???

I must have drank some seriously potent iPhone Kool-aid while I was in San Fran for the Web 2.0 Summit. Ever since I have been back all I can even think, dream or talk about is the huge potential behind the iPhone. The problem is that some people, in some cases even Apple, do not seem to be fully appreciating the scope of what is possible here. 

The most recent example of a company failing to see the full potential behind this new platform is Penguin Publishing. I received an email from a colleague at the start of the week letting me know about a new application that Penguin released. It’s part of a broad sweeping initiative by the publisher to embrace the new social web, so kudos to them for finally jumping on the band wagon. However their iPhone application simply does the following, and I quote, “It makes the features of the Web site—the blog, book previews, podcasts, news and Penguin-specific book-finding tools—available on the iPhone.” Wow, awesome, but am I missing something here? What about the potential of literally selling people books to read on the iPhone through the application? They now have a direct channel to a medium that users can easily read their books on, why not skip over all the book re-sellers and simply sell the digital format of these books through their app? I dont get it! I am not saying that they should stop using book stores to sell their products, but the iPhone is a highly effective tool for reading books, why not go straight to the source? 

I recently downloaded Stanza (an e-book reader application for the iPhone) and blasted through Animal Farm in 3 days flat. The reading experience on the iPhone is an absolute pleasure. I actually enjoyed reading using my phone over and above reading a traditional paper back (I may just be a seriously early adopter though). The best part about it is that I never have to lug around another book with me. All I have to do is go to Stanza’s book store, download a new book and its with me everywhere I go. If the iPhone really is to become a new medium for content, why would Penguin develop an application that does not include an ebook reader so you can simply download their new releases and old classics directly into your phone while your on the go?

The other element of this whole debacle that eludes me is why Apple has not made an e-book reader part of their own native application bundle. They have an internet browser, a music and video player, a camera, but no book reader. If this is really going to become the new media device of the future, they certainly should include the most trusted form of content … text! And whats more is they have the perfect distribution channel to be selling e-books through; iTunes! They already sell audio books, why not sell ebooks also to be read directly through an application on their phone just like MP3’s. Hell they can even include DRM for all I care, to get the publishers on the board. 

There is a lot of potential here in the field of text based content on the iPhone that a lot of people seem to be looking over in favour of more flashy features. I love all the potential behind some of these new innovative features but In my opinion (please keep in mind the line I stated off with, that I definitely drank some potent iPhone kool-aid) the iPhone has the potential to destroy Amazon’s Kindle business and in turn the future of Amazon’s e-book sales. Who wants to lug around an extra device or another book when you already have everything you need in your pocket? Not me, thats for sure.


Filed under digital publishing, e-readers, mobile, Reading

Eye Science Part 1 – How we read and what a human eye can take in.

Since our mention in Wired Magazine, we’ve had a lot of great feedback from users requesting changes to our reading interface. We had the whole gamut of  requests from different colors to different fonts, changing of font sizes, adding words to each cluster, subtracting words from each cluster.

These are all great suggestions and they seem pretty commonplace. One has to ask, why haven’t the guys at Spreed already implemented many of the requests?  To technically implement them is not that hard. What gives?

The answer is not simple.

The easy answer is that we are the first company entirely focused on reading enhancement. It is a new space with new challenges. Our goal is to become the experts in this field. We have developed some significant expertise and we try to use this when building in features. This means that we have a look at the existing sciences to justify a feature’s benefit in terms of reading efficiency.

We look at past research, we try to find new research, we try it out on ourselves and a portion of our community before a change to our reading interface ever makes it to the live site.

Our initial goal when we started Spreed was to let the computer do the heavy lifting of speed reading. We wanted to develop an algorithm and a reading interface that would be effective for most people. No doubt Spreed demands that people challenge themselves to learn how to get through information faster. We remain adamant that with a little (or in some cases a lot) of practice, we can help you read faster. When Spreed eventually catches on and is integrated with other content and technology providers, you’ll be able to let the computer do the ‘heavy lifting’ for all your digital reading.

You might even find an increase in your speed when reading conventionally. Recently, we had a few people say that they are now reading faster on paper since they started using Spreed.

That’s the easy answer to the latency in adding features. I am going to pick a specific part of our research to have our users think about: Have you ever wondered how the human eye picks up words?

When reading traditionally your eyes do not move in a linear fashion across the page. The eye makes many “stops” and occasionally doubles back to words previously read. Even fast readers double back –  only they are a lot faster at it than the average reader. A “stop” is called a saccade and it typically lasts in the range of 200-250 milliseconds.

The Science of Word Recognition – Kevin Larson, July 2004.

On each stop, the eye will focus on a word, look for first few letters of the next word and also go further ahead to gauge the length of upcoming words and the sentence as a whole. The eye’s ability to look forward might be the reason why single word flashing also know as RSVP might be less efficient than our algorithm.

So what does your eye process in a saccade?

There is a vast array of academic research in this area. I am going to quote Kevin Larson who is the leader in this field. Mr. Larson is a cognitive psychologist working at Microsoft with their advanced reading technologies team. Who knew Microsoft has such a team??? Regardless, we find his work very useful.

During a single fixation, there is a limit to the amount of information that can be recognized. The fovea, which is the clear center point of our vision, can only see three to four letters to the left and right of fixation at normal reading distances. Visual acuity decreases quickly in the parafovea, which extends out as far as 15 to 20 letters to the left and right of the fixation point

The Science of Word Recognition – Kevin Larson, July 2004.

Visual acuity? Fovea? Parafovea?  What happens when font sizes are increased? when colours or contrasts are changed? when the number of words or characters in a cluster change?  How will this affect how you can absorb information? You need not worry about these questions, but we do!

Parafoveal rules are the basis for the length of clusters in Spreed. The algorithm ensures that characters do not fall outside the average person’s parafoveal field of vision. Depending on the length of words in a cluster, the formation algorithm can produce a cluster with one, two, three and sometimes four words. At times the algorithm does not allow clusters to reach the maximum length because of another set of rules (i.e. grammar rules). The alogorithm tries to encompass speed reading principles, visual perception (eye science), and English grammar / linguistic rules. We’ll leave the other rules for another post.
We err on the side of caution when we make changes to the cluster formation algorithm and reading interface. Our goal was to allow the average (if not daring) person to read faster. There will always be outliers who require a larger font, or different colour scheme etc. Is the algorithm perfect? Certainly not. We feel we are at the inception of a reading revolution and will continue to innovate and test both within our labs and our community at large.

ps. We will be at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week November 5-8. If you feel like talking about Spreed, shoot myself or Dave an email ( or


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More Kindle News

If you are a new reader here at the Spreed:Blog, you will find out in due time that we are quite obsessed with digital publishing and the ways that we take in digital content. Spreed’s goal is to make the digital reading experience more efficient on any electronic device. Our speed reading application is only one class of product we are working on. We want to streamline the entire online reading experience and make it more productive. As such we are constantly looking for the newest and coolest technologies out there that aid in the effective reading of electronic material. By far the most exciting new platform out there is the Kindle and we have covered this product here on our blog many times before. However, over the past couple of weeks there has been some very interesting news surrounding the Kindle and I just wanted to give light to all these new developments here:

Amazon Growth Slows a Bit; No New Kindle in 2008: Publishers Weekly

CFO Tom Szkutak said that while sales of the Kindle have exceeded expectations, it does not plan to release a new version of the e-reader until 2009 “at the earliest.” He noted that Amazon has ramped up manufacturing capacity for Kindle, and the device is in stock. When the Kindle was introduced last November, the readers quickly went out of stock. Amazon said the e-book reader now accounts for more than 10% of unit sales for books that are available both in digital and print formats. Bezos said purchase of e-books is “additive” to sales of print books with Kindle e-book buyers tending to buy as many print books in addition to e-books.

Oprah Comes Out For Kindle: The Guardian

Today in Chicago, and on TV screens across the USA, Oprah Winfrey is going to recommend her new “favorite gadget,” which is Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader. A brief video has appeared on Amazon’s website to plug the show — as spotted by Chris Nuttall at the Financial Times — which will also feature a guest appearance by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Kindle in the University: Brave New World Blog

Yale, Oxford and the University of California have all adopted Kindle programs, and now Princeton University Press will begin publishing Kindle-edition textbooks, launching, Robert Shiller’s new economics book “The Subprime Solution” on the device two weeks before the hard copy. Princeton plans to roll out hundreds of books through the Kindle’s online store. The questions over over the commercial ‘revenue sharing’ arrangements are between the parties and whether , as some may say, Amazon is buying trade. 


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LifeHacker Also Suggests Spreed

Lifehacker also picked up on the Wired Magazine article today and wrote their own post all about Spreed:News. A lot of these sites see Spreed as a way to practice Speed reading. Once we release Spreed:Docs to the public and let you all speed reading your own doucments we are hoping to move away from this notion. Spreed:Docs will be a great way to get through all of those documents you have piled up on your desk or PC, but in a fraction of the time. See the full text of the article below.

Spreed Teaches You To Speed-Read The News: LifeHacker

Free speed-reading webapp Spreed:News lets you choose from a wide array of news sources and have their articles read to you in small clusters of words. Working from the principles that make for faster reading, you can scale the tool between 240 and 1500 words per minute, and set up an account to save your favorite sources—from Boing Boing to the New York Times and dozens more—for quick browsing. Spreed offers a tally of the seconds you’ve saved from word-by-word reading, and offers an iPhone-optimized interface for speed reading while on commutes or trips. Spreed is free to use, requires a sign-up to save your feeds.

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Want to Learn How To Speed Read? Wired Magazine Thinks You Should Try Spreed!

Spreed was featured in this months issue of Wired Magazine as the best way to practice your speed reading techniques. It’s a quick read and gives some very helpful hints on the best way to learn how to speed read. See the article in full below.

Learn How to Speed Read: Wired How-To

The ability to digest 1,200 words per minute is like a nerdy superpower. (Average mortals max out at 300.) We tapped Michael Tipper, speed-reading coach to the likes of Shell and IBM, for tips.

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Spreed:News Featured on the Chris Pirillo Show

Last week we made some big announcements here at Spreed about some of our future and current products. The response from our users and the web in general was absolutely fantastic and I would like to thank and congratulate everyone for being part of a true revolution in the way people read online. Although I do not like singling people out of the crowd, I would like to say a special thank you to Chris Pirillo who put together a fantastic video review of the new Spreed interface. Thanks Chris!

Remember if you want to sign up for an early beta of Spreed:Docs, we only have 20 invites left. Click Here if you are interested in participating.

Chris | Live Tech Support | Video Help | Add to iTunes

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