Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Need for Speed: reading the web faster

Everyone need to read web pages. News sites, reference material, this and that. Unfortunately most pages are designed to discourage our reading experience. Some have letters so that we need to magnify the screen to read. And there are those pages which have so many words per row, that we almost always get lost when moving to the next line.

And we have our problems too. Inability to concentrate on anything makes us read the same para again and again.

Not to worry. At least in the computing world, problems are solved nearly in the same speed they appear. There are several interesting tools we can use to enhance our reading experience in the web.

1. RSVP Reader

This is a nice addon for Firefox. Once installed it brings a new toolbar with several buttons and a text area. To read some text all you need to do is select the text and click the Play button on the toolbar. It then begins to show chunks of the text in the text area which is the only place you need to keep your eye on while reading. You can adjust the font size, number of words displayed per minute and the length of the chunks.
Since you do not have to move your eyes in the screen your attention is not lost. For articles you want to skim through, for example long articles to be read in a short amount of time, you can increase the wpm value. May not be much suitable for reading technical stuff, but really great for going through news, stories, etc.
And it is said that by using this your speed reading skills improve too. It's a pity a substitute is not yet available for Chrome.

2. Reasy

This somewhat an extension to the RSVP reader. It makes the words scroll in the page while blocking the view of the real page content. Meant to further reduce the distractions. More focused on the presentation of the text, rather than many options, the author claims. But I personally dislike this.

3. Readability

Ever noticed that it is far easier to read the slim columns of a newspaper than long sentences in a book? Wished everything was in columns like that? Readability is the answer.

This ain't an addon, but a bookmarklet, something (a script in fact) you can drag and drop in your bookmarks bar and can be used in all browsers. You can first adjust the font style, size and margin size and then drag the bookmarklet to the bar. To read using this gadget, all you have to do is to hit the Readability bookmarklet while you're on the page you wish to read. If the RSVP reader's pace is too fast for you this will fit. The only drawback is Readability still lacks support for certain sites and has difficulty in displaying bulleted lists, etc.

This list isn't exhaustive. These are just the ones I'm using daily and would give you a started. I noticed that googling "read online faster" gives a plenty of results.

And, finally, if you want to increase your reading speed as a whole, I'd recommend Tony Buzan's Speed Reading book for best results.


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