How ReallyRead.it might just save us all
We’ve forgotten the art of completative reading. This scrappy little startup wants to bring it back — and fix the problem of internet trolls at the same time.
In the pre-internet days, I used to spend hours with a book. In the shade of a tree in the garden, walking to school, in bed before — and ofter after — bedtime. The fond memories of being engrossed in another world seem so far away, replaced by a world where we twitch from tweet to tweet, from post to post, from article to article. The ADD-laced, attention-fragmentation-fest we live in is a world reallyread.it hates. At the Matter media accelerator demo day this week, the founders presented their vision of how they want to change all of that.
“The problem with Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, is that their financial models are predicated on people coming back to the feed and clicking around a lot,” says Bill Loundy, CEO and co-founder at reallyread.it. “It means that clickbait is everywhere, and people are sharing and commenting based on the headlines alone.”
To fix that, reallyread.it invites you to install a Chrome extension that reads the body copy along with you. If you’re just skimming and bouncing around, you don’t get credit for reading. If you scroll slowly, at a pace that indicates that you’re really reading the article, your reallyread.it account gives you credit for ‘reading’ the article.
“When I first installed our own app, I was horrified,” Loundy laughs, on the realization that while he does finish the odd article here and there, most of them are left abandoned at 5 or 6 percent. Which isn’t a problem, of course — there’s no law against skimming something before you decide to read it — but the reallyread.it team found something more sinister. The most vitriolic flamewars are around sensitive topics where the twitter trolls and hobby pundits leap in with their viewpoints without having read — or even looked at — the article.
That challenge is at the heart of what the team is trying to solve. To submit something to reallyread.it, you have to fully read the article. To enter the conversation and reply to a comment, you have to do the same. The service also keeps a breadcrumb trail of the articles you’ve been looking at on your journey around the web — complete with how much of the articles you actually read:
It’s a refreshing new way of analyzing what you read and what you skip — and being held to task is rather delightful. Sure, so the website looks like it was designed by a five-year-old in the mid-1990s, and the company needs to raise some money pronto in order to continue its existence, but that’s exactly what participating in an accelerator buys you: The bandwidth to see whether your crazy idea has legs.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you never have to wonder whether the person you’re having a discussion with has read the article,” Loundy asks, and is hoping to be able to convince publishers to tidy up their below-the-fold discussions by forcing its readers to actually read the article before they start weighing in on a topic.
The real test of time for the startup will be to see whether highlighting people’s reading habits helps effect lasting change. The team has a solution that’s better than just shaming you: If you read 10 five-minute-read articles on 10 consecutive days, they’ll buy you a pizza. Which, let’s be honest, is an excellent reward for re-living the sun-dappled reading experiences of your childhood.