Speed Reading On Your Mobile Phone
By Mike Masnick, Mon May 09 21:15:00 GMT 2005

One of the major problems with presenting text content on a mobile phone is still the screen size. There just isn't that much real estate. Some researchers are taking a very different approach, and hoping that by showing you less, you'll be able to read more.


Obviously, as you get smaller, there are limitations. The small size of the handset means both limitations for input and for display of data. While most attempts at solving the display issue focus on ways to make the screen larger (or to at least appear larger), a group of researchers at Stanford are taking a different strategy: they're hoping to change the way people read to make it easier to digest content quickly.

They've launched an offering called BuddyBuzz that takes some ideas from speed reading moves them to the mobile phone. The idea may seem somewhat counter-intuitive at first. Rather than displaying more content on the screen, BuddyBuzz displays less. In fact, it just displays a single word which keeps changing as the text moves along. For example, if you were reading this piece via BuddyBuzz, it would start out by showing just the word "One" on the screen, following by just "of" and then just "the," and onward from there. It's called rapid serial visual presentation, shortened to the ever catchy RSVP. BuddyBuzz has been around for a few months now (and, indeed, has some "buzz"), but it's now reaching the point where the researchers behind it are very interested in commercializing the offering.

It's not hard to see both the upsides and downsides to this system -- and even the researchers behind it admit that it works for some people, but not others. On the plus side, the text can obviously be much larger, meaning no more squinting. Also, the reader doesn't have to scroll or find his or her place. The place is always the same: front and center. Finally, the rate of speed can be adjusted in a way that many people appear to be able to read much, much faster using RSVP, as the presentation forces you to keep up, and the lack of eye movement allows the data to flow faster. For some unknown reason, the BuddyBuzz website doesn't appear to include a demonstration. You have to actually download the application onto a compatible phone (of which there's a small list) to see it. However, others have build web-based RSVP apps that demonstrate the concept. The downsides of the technology might depend on the individual. It's definitely a different way of processing information, and it might not be right for everyone. Also, if the words flash by too fast or you glance away for a second, you can become completely lost.

There are also some other speed reading applications for mobile devices out there, so this particular application could find competition in the marketplace. However, in the quest to make mobile content easier to digest, it seems likely that this, or something like it, is bound to get a lot more attention. Of course, there's one other potential problem: it appears that there are a bunch of patents already covering much of the space, which has even scared off someone from releasing a very simple script for taking text and presenting it in this manner. Assuming this is a really useful way for reading and processing text via a mobile device, it would be unfortunate if overly broad patents locked up the technology from being readily available.