Sep 3 2010
ReadEasy turned into ReadHard. They pulled the plug on their endeavor, no doubt seeking greener, happier pastures. Or something.
I’m going to go out on a limb here: the Internet has changed the way we read. Thanks especially to the hyperlink, we now have context, references, as endless tangents by which we can get a fuller picture of what we’re reading. Sometimes the context is mindless and time-consuming; other times, it’s extremely valuable.
Back in the good ol’ analog past, this function would be served by footnotes or endnotes. But in this day and age, footnotes and endnotes are like Dick Clark – yeah, they’re amazingly still around, but for what purpose? For starters, continually scanning towards the bottom of the page, or worse, flipping to the end of a chapter or book, disturbs the flow of reading. And most people – especially college students – don’t even read traditional “books” anymore.
So how can readers get additional context in this post-end/footnote world? Glad you asked, because into this vortex steps ReadEasy, the next step in online (and analog) reading.
ReadEasy is a pro-active and predictive dictionary system that enhances the reading experience by embedding personalized and contextually correct definitions (“Readlets”) next to that text. The Readlets are tailored to the user’s knowledge level in the topic and language of the text, and are embedded within the document to allow for faster and better reading comprehension.
So I registered. Upon doing so, I was prompted to upload a document; it was an old work plan I threw together in Word. After a few seconds, the new and improved file opened up, rife with Readlets: certain terms were automatically defined in the far left or right margins. By clicking on any Readlet, I could remove or change them. All of the hyperlinks from the original Word document were intact, and I had a nice page scroller at the bottom of the screen to help me navigate.
Most importantly, my question about the origins of the Readlets themselves were quickly answered. Basically, I wondered why ReadEasy chose certain words to define with Readlets and not others. ReadEasy will select certain words it thinks are likely to need further definition. Fortunately, I could also add my own. I simply clicked on a word in the document; a pop-up opened, identifying the word and giving me multiple Readlet options and asking me to select one. So ReadEasy is stocked with definitions that make their way into Readlets. (Don’t believe me? Access their dictionary in the bottom right-hand corner of their home page and see for yourself.)
With a handful of definitions to choose from, I selected one by clicking on the “Use This Definition” button. Once I was finished with the document, I clicked on the “Update” button to regenerate the file with the Readlets I added and removed. Simple, efficient, and kind of fun. Due to a strict confidentiality agreement, I am unable to show a screenshot of the actual ReadEasy-itized Word doc (my lawyer is literally reading over my shoulder as I type this.) However, here is a similar example:
Having received the Readlet-treatment, it’s only natural to think of how ReadEasy can be applied in the real world. Most obviously, a document – and its Readlets – can be tailored based on the audience. For example, high school readers of, say, “Huck Finn,” can have Readlets that match their 16-year old selves. More sophisticated, ivory-tower academic Readlets, meanwhile, would make more sense for a college-aged reader. Context is everything.
Which leads me to my next thought: ReadEasy would be extremely valuable in areas rife with complexity and “industry-specific” terminology. Examples: college textbooks (not sure why, but anatomy comes to mind), product owners’ manuals (particularly in the IT field), strategy and marketing documents, employee training manuals, instructions to assemble stuff, etc. In other words, ReadEasy can be useful in any field that has their own strange proprietary language and occasionally-depressing buzzwords. It would also be helpful to those learning English as a second language.
Which lastly brings me to the navigational component of the site and suggestions. The site is very easy to use, so no need to beat a dead horse. The FAQs are helpful too, and I actually think there’s some room for development there. For starters, additions as simple as “What is ReadEasy?” and “Why should I use ReadEasy?” would help. And to that latter suggested FAQ – and also echoing my comments earlier – ReadEasy may want to dial up the practical uses of its product, particularly across its targeted audiences. A fleshed out FAQ and even some Web copy (e.g. “ReadEasy is perfect for students, employees, and professionals by providing instant and valuable context to textbooks, training manuals, and instructional documents of your choosing) could go a long way. Just a thought.
So, despite David Foster Wallace’s best efforts, we must face reality and bid a collective adieu to the analog footnote and endnote. (It was a fun ride, guys.) The hyperlink, and all of its glory, is here to stay. But as long as there are textbooks, training manuals, and complex and confusing organizations with their own internal corporate-speak, there is a need for a better, deeper, and more contextualized reading experience. It’s an experience elegantly provided by ReadEasy.