Contrasting Two Companies

Ingram and Hakkinen Bios

Productivity’s Products

Recording for the Blind

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This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July

22, 1998. All rights reserved.

Net Future: Audio Access

Companies located in Princeton often discover that

a rival firm lives — not in another country or another state —

but right next door. R&D companies are here working side by side on

some of the same tasks. And it’s not just the big companies that are

rivals. Small start-ups can nimbly negotiate today’s fast-moving

technology

markets to challenge their mega competitors. They succeed when they

grab early recognition and carve out a niche that they can hold onto.

So although Siemens Corporate Research promises to develop a

telephone-based

web browser by next year (U.S. 1, July 15), a seven-person

Trenton-based

firm has one right now. "We have always seen applicability for

what we are calling the non-visual browser," says Ray Ingram,

co-founder of Productivity Works (http://www.prodworks.com).

"Our approach was to come into a market niche and generate enough

income to survive and expand from there."

His firm’s first thrust was Internet access for the visually impaired,

and it has profitable contracts with more than 20 associations for

the blind around the world. Now Ingram aims to apply the firm’s

extensive

experience in non-visual browsers to products for the sighted,

starting

with telephone-based browsers. "Our idea was always to provide

general access to the widest possible audience," says Ingram,

"and the lowest common denominator has always been the telephone.

Our idea is to create one format to be delivered in many ways."

Ingram and co-founder Mark Hakkinen work very differently from their

counterparts at Siemens (http://www.scr.siemens.com), and a

quick look at the two websites confirms this. The smaller firm refers

to the World Wide Web as "an elitist and separatist model."

It decries how the Web is turning into a toll road that restricts

traffic to luxury vehicles. "What that model does not recognize

is that 90 percent of the world’s population will never meet the entry

requirements for this road."

Then Hakkinen and Ingram quote Institute for Advanced Study physicist

Freeman Dyson’s book "Imagined Worlds" on how the free market

is unlikely to provide technology to poor people. "Only a

technology

positively guided by ethics can do it. The power of ethics must be

exerted by concerned scientists, educators, and entrepreneurs working

together."

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Contrasting Two Companies

Visits to each office confirm other obvious contrasts. At Siemens

Corporate Research, each researcher works on a part of the overall

product, and the positioning of the product and most other business

angles — marketing, distribution, and licensing — are taken

care of by somebody else. For the Siemens web browser, people in

Munich,

Germany, and Santa Clara, California, handle those aspects. And

Siemens

has one of the more gorgeous sites on College Road, a sleek

100,000-foot

building with some 150 workers.

But when you go to the Productivity Works office, a home in the

Cadwalader

Park section of Trenton, you are greeted by two friendly dogs and

are escorted up two flights of stairs to an attic office, attractively

outfitted with subtle lighting, unusual art objects, and five

big-screen

PCs. Mark Hakkinen — who usually works at his own site — is

here today, deep in consultation with Linda Dorrian on a product

launch.

Jeanne Hart-Convery and Susan Jennings are occupied by product support

and marketing tasks.

Ingram and Hakkinen make their own business-side

decisions.

Ingram, a pony-tailed barrel-chested fellow with a British accent,

explains his marketing position: "We are too small a company to

create a market. We want to build a number of products around

interesting

new technology and keep new products coming out."

The market ranges from libraries for the blind to ISPs to telephone

companies. "If you look at who benefits from an extended phone

call you come back very quickly to the communications company. Every

one of the major telephone companies around the world are working

to some degree on this, as are every one of the major cell phone

groups,"

says Ingram.

His patent position: Ingram disdains applying for patents for his

algorithms because he says that in the Internet environment, nearly

everything is in the public domain. "As a small company it is

just not worth the effort." What if his competitors are getting

patents right and left? "If they have a little algorithm, good

for them," says Ingram. "The only rule is that everything

we know has no validity at all three or six months from now."

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Ingram and Hakkinen Bios

Ingram says he took an early dislike to elitism, the elitism of big

companies and of the computer industry in general. An only child,

he grew up north of London, where his father was an engineer and

attended

the town grammar school. He majored in computer science at Hatfield

Polytechnic, Class of 1972, and simultaneously did a work study

program

for Rolls Royce. After working at the United Kingdom branch of Readers

Digest, Ingram joined Mathematica in 1974. He moved to the United

States in 1978 and left Mathematica in 1986. He and his wife, Kelly

Ingram, a professional decorative painter, live in the Cadwalader

section of Trenton.

Hakkinen, 42, was born and raised in Los Angeles, the son of a

aircraft

engineer and a public health nurse who had immigrated from Finland.

He went to the University of Colorado and Washington University and

did work-study as a research programmer for the Central Institute

for the Deaf. He did graduate work in human factors engineering at

Virginia Tech, where he met his wife, Helen Sullivan. She has a

web-page

design firm, Ariadne Design, and they have three school-age children.

He moved to Princeton in 1983 to work for an office systems subsidiary

of Exxon in Princeton, joined Mathematica in 1985, where he met

Ingram,

and the two of them worked for a software firm, Multi Soft, for the

next 11 years.

"When Mark and I were putting the company together, we both had

a lot of experience in opening up the Internet to computer-illiterate

people," says Ingram. "We saw the web as something that was

going to go bananas, but a conversation with John DeWitt, a

Glendale-based

consultant who is blind, helped us out a lot. We asked him how he

browsed the web. He said, `With difficulty.’ That was the proverbial

line in the sand. We started looking at the problem, and meanwhile

we did some consulting to fund ourselves."

The company had revenue of $177,000 its first full-time year, last

year, and projects revenue of $1.4 million for year two. The products:

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Productivity’s Products

Audio web browser. Their pwWebSpeak product came out two

years ago; it costs $150 and has 20,000 users, but Ingram predicts

it will have 250,000 users by the end of this year. Copies for

personal

use by the disabled are offered at a nominal fee. It browses the World

Wide Web with such user-friendly options as speeding up or slowing

down the synthesized voice, jumping from headings to links to text,

and even spelling out an individual word. It comes packaged with a

speech synthesizer and E-mail reader.

Because it can "read" any publication online, it can help

the Web be a major source of information for those who have lost,

or mostly lost, their sight later in life. The product can also help

to teach reading skills to slower learners.

"The new release of pwWebspeak does a lot of neat new stuff,"

says Ingram. "It has an improved menu, it increases the size of

web pages that can be opened up, and it has improvements in textual

announcements, navigation, remappable keyboards, and audio style sheet

customization."

Telephone-based web browser. The brand-new pwTelephone

product costs $550 and uses voice synthesis to read back web pages

and E-mail but also allows you to access real-time audio streaming.

Installed on a PC or an ISP’s server, it turns an ordinary telephone

into an Internet browser or a device to listen to radio reading

services,

reference a book from an online library, or find out hospital or

government

services. One copy of pwTelephone serves one incoming telephone line.

Ingram demonstrates how, on a speaker phone, he can pick up the

read-aloud

broadcasts archived on a newspaper’s website in North Carolina.

Audio E-mail. PwEMail, created for both non-visual

(pwWebSpeak)

and visual (Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.) browsers, sells for

$175 with voice messaging and $125 without.

<B>Recording software. Another of the firm’s thrusts

is to use its technology to support teachers and help students who

have difficulty in reading by producing a new generation of textbooks.

Productivity Works has contracts with the Digital Audio Information

System (DAISY) Consortium (http://www.daisy.org), with

20 member groups worldwide, including Recording for the Blind and

Dyslexic. Along with a Swedish firm it is developing audio production

software which allows synchronized text, multimedia, images, video,

in the creation of books.

LP Studio uses industry standard protocols so the results may be

played

locally, from CD, over an intranet or over the Web itself. Recordings

are made using teleprompting technique, making the recording and

synchronization

processes extremely simple. LP Studio costs $125 per copy.

LP Studio Pro will go into beta test in September. It allows you to

record in synchronized text and multimedia in geographically separate

locations and has enhanced editing capabilities.

These digital publishers using synthesized speech can make frequent

but inexpensive changes to update a book’s text. "Some

technologies

would allow you to update part of a paragraph without rerecording

the book," says Ingram, who invokes the specter of Microsoft to

emphasize how important digital publishing should be. "Nobody

thought of Microsoft as a publisher," he warns, but now

"Encarta"

is available on CD and Encyclopedia Britannica is having a very hard

time.

Multimedia products: Hearable and readable books. The

initial project for this software was a next-generation text and

digital

CD-ROM audio biology text, jointly produced with Recording for the

Blind and Dyslexic and Prentice Hall. For the sighted, the part you

hear is timed to the part you see. Those who are blind can hear the

text and the very articulate descriptions of the pictures, written

by the experienced readers from the Recording for the Blind &

Disabled.

"At the top, a single octopus stares at the camera," reads

the voice, "and three tentacles are draped over a rock. The animal

is mainly a dark brown."

"We have had a test version of this in school districts since

last year," says Ingram.

Those who are learning disabled or unfamiliar with English can benefit

from reading along while they hear it. Productivity Works has produced

just one of these books, but a library in Sweden, says Ingram, has

about 100 books in this format and a Japanese nonprofit has funded

"a bunch more."

Speech tools. PwSpeech allows other developers to

incorporate

speech into their applications or Web pages written in such languages

as Visual Basic or Visual C++, or Java scripts or applets. It is a

Windows 95, 98 and NT product that requires the developer to have

a speech synthesizer that supports Microsoft Speech API (SAPI) and

costs $1,250 per development copy.

Though Productivity Works has a "no applications for patents"

policy, it still tries to stake out a position of authority in the

intellectual marketplace. Hakkinen is helping to set the standards

for synchronized multimedia integration language (SMIL), which will

synchronize various media streams: text, audio and video, so they

can be recorded independently, and so that the user can control the

speed at which he listens or reads. He is also active in committees

that set accessibility standards for different types of users of

remote

access voice browsers — telephone access, wire access, and web

TV.

A side benefit to working on worldwide committees is that Hakkinen

gets to participate in making early prototypes. "We persuaded

the audio book libraries to use the W3C standards when they came out,

and we got some quite large contracts out of that," says Ingram.

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Recording for the Blind

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic on Roszel Road was one of the first

major clients. RFB&D will use the technology to convert a million

hours of audio onto digital audio. "Until now, synthetic speech

has been relatively unknown to people outside who are not blind. For

this niche population, synthetic speech has been the bridge of access

to the typed word," says John Churchill, senior vice president

of operations at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

(http://www.rfbd.org).

RFB&D started producing electronic books in 1990 but even though

electronic

books take much less staff time, the proportion of electronic to

"natural

voice" books is small. This year it produced 106 electronic books,

versus more than 3,700 audio books. Reference materials are the most

often chosen types to do electronically.

"But many materials in print — when they are supplied in an

electronic form and used in conjunction with synthetic speech —

can be much more accessible than on a cassette tape. The user can

use the powers of the computer to do searches, store materials in

a more efficient way. It is powerful tool," says Churchill.

"One of our primary reasons is to distribute those books in other

ways — on the Internet, CDs, DVDs in the future," says

Churchill.

"This will offer a wider array of access to our computers than

audiotape. It will still be the natural spoken word. Productivity

Works does the actual manufacture of these books that combine text

with audio and perhaps even graphics."

"This technology is an open technology," says Ingram, "and

that’s what we have been fighting for." It’s all for

accessibility.

"We open up the large store of knowledge from the digital

libraries

and make them available to anyone anytime. Our challenge is to design

the interface so that access is intuitive and easy," says

Hakkinen.

"Bill Gates may talk about `his road ahead’ but in that road ahead

you have ox carts and people on foot," says Hakkinen. "We

hope to have an impact on people in developing countries who will

never be able to afford PCs. They need an economical access solution,

and we say voice is the way to do it."

— Barbara Fox

The Productivity Works Inc., 7 Belmont Circle,

Trenton 08618. 609-984-8044; fax 609-984-8048. URL:

http://www.prodworks.com;

E-mail: info@prodworks.com.


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