Saturday, 12 December 2015

Spritz and applications that use it



When Spritz announced their new speed-reading technology with a flashy website, an impressive demo, and some complimentary media articles, people noticed. They claimed that they would change the future of reading, and people believed them. I believed them. The premise is simple - words flash one-by-one in front of you on a fixed point, saving you the time you usually spend moving your eyes backwards and forwards while reading text in lines.


It's difficult to re-imagine ideas as popular as reading. Books have chapters, pages, paragraphs, and lines. They have many of these things not because they are inherently important to reading, but because they were necessary to print words out on paper. Some web pages still try to incorporate the idea of pagination - you get half way through a news article and then have to press "Go to page 2". Most people agree that pagination is generally A Bad Idea and no longer use it.

Two years since the Spritz announcement, and the technology built on Spritz is disappointing. There are some half-baked attempts to create speed-reader applications for most popular platforms, but nothing revolutionary. Most of these applications are just a wrapper of the Spritz demo that allow users to upload the content they want to read or find it online.

The Spritz applications that I find useful, but far from complete, are:
  • The Spritz 'bookmarklet' (web) allows you to Spritz most text that you come across online, simply by selecting it and pressing the bookmark in your (desktop) browser
    • Pros: Free, easy to install and use, fairly versatile
    • Cons: Doesn't work on mobile devices, Isn't designed to read books or other files.
  • SpeedRead (web) - a website that allows you to upload your own files (including PDFs), and read them with a very attractive modification of the standard Spritz interface.
    • Pros: Looks good, works well, allows user files
    • Cons: Not free, although the 'try it out' functionality has no time or number of use restrictions.
  • ReadMe! (Android) - an Android e-reader that includes Spritz technology
    • Pros: Free, shows whole page behind Spritz window, allows for 'normal' reading too;
    • Cons: Android-only, difficult to add files (you have to transfer from PC or download directly, but there are no options to link to Dropbox or equivalent).
There are a number of other applications that I have tried over the last few weeks, and they have all been very disappointing. Many have been very unstable or are incomplete/ no-longer developed. Perhaps the iOS ones are better, but not owning any Apple devices (and generally finding myself unwilling to pay for digital 'things'), I haven't been able to test these.

I find Spritz very useful for reading longish articles (looking at you Medium), and to skim through books that I'm not sure I want to read. But when reading through Spritz, one tends to mentally 'hear' everything in a monotone, and the applications of the technology so far still make it very difficult to navigate through a book in anything but a beginning-to-end pattern. When people read, they often tend to go back to re-read a complicated sentence, or to compensate for their mind wandering off for a bit. This is still something that is very difficult to do in all the Spritz applications I have seen so far.

1 comment:

  1. ReadMe! is for both Android and iOS. Check it: https://www.readmei.com :)

    ReplyDelete

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I'm far away from home in this country called "Europe". I'm studying towards a Master's in Computational Linguistics (I think - this might help: https://xkcd.com/114/). I write about web applications and Python and other things that you may find interesting (considering you got this far).