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Friday, March 14, 2014

Read A Novel In 90 Minutes? Spritz Explained

Screenshot of the Spritz homepage

Screenshot of the Spritz homepage.

Boston-based tech startup Spritz recently released a new speed-reading technology that will soon become embedded in the many websites, apps and other wearable devices increasingly common to daily communication.

By showing users just one word at a time, the program establishes an “optimal recognition point” designed to speed reading rates anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words per minute. But does it really work? Some experts claim that good old-fashioned “skimming” is still the key to quick comprehension of texts.

Frank Waldman, co-founder and CEO of Spritz, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain the how the technology works and his hopes for it.

Try Spritz at 250 words per minute (focus on the red letter):

Spritz 250 wpm

Try Spritz at 350 words per minute:

Spritz 350 wpm

Try Spritz at 500 words per minute:

Spritz 500 wpm

Interview Highlights: Frank Waldman

On how Spritz works

“It positions words in a spot on a display where you can recognize the word, without moving your eye… About 80 percent of the time reading, conventionally, is spent moving your eye from one word to the next. So just placing each word in a spot where you don’t have to move your eye saves you a lot of time, and that time, your brain can use to process the word you just read, and prepare for reading and recognizing the next word. And so, by placing the word for you in a streaming text display, you’re able to increase your reading speed effortlessly.”

On the analogy of “a treadmill for your eyes”

“Running on the road is hard. You’re distracted. You’re body doesn’t, you know, really get into the perfect speed, unless you run a lot. With a treadmill, you set the speed, hop on it — you don’t have to worry about anything. You just relax and run. And it’s the same with this technique: you set your speed, the words flow in, your brain processes them, and believe it or not, even at that 600-word-per-minute speed you just heard, your brain can recognize those words.”

On the efficacy of Spritz

“We have people reading books, and we test them, and they score higher when asked questions. So, you know, it’s not an academic study. It’s just done by us to make sure that, you know, we know that people can do it. There is a reporter for the Sun over in the U.K. who benchmarked himself reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ and I encourage you to look at the results of what he tells his readers.”

“There is a reading speed for comprehension that’s optimal for each person, and of course, everyone’s brain is different. You know, the figure you’ve seen quoted in a lot of stories is 1,000 words a minute, and we have a guy who’s reading 1,000 words a minute perfect comprehension. I’d say he’s a rare case. Other people read with great comprehension, improved comprehension, at 350 to 400 words a minute, which is almost double their normal reading speed. And that’s enough. You don’t have to read a book in an hour.”

On practical applications for the technology

“We think there’s a lot of opportunity. You know, there’s a lot of analytics that are possible in this technique, because, you know, you’re streaming text that, for the first time, you know that someone’s actually reading it. When you surf a web page, you’re not sure that anyone’s reading the content. So this is a way to know, okay, if it’s being streamed, then the publisher knows, okay, people are actually reading it.”

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

And if you've ever had to read a book in a short period of time, or you've wanted to read faster than your little eyeballs can traverse the words on the page, you are going to want to hear this next conversation. There is a new technology called Spritz. It claims it will revolutionize the way we read. Frank Waldman is founder and CEO of Spritz, which created the technology. He's with us from New York. Welcome.

FRANK WALDMAN: Glad to be here, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, first of all, what does this do exactly?

WALDMAN: Well, in a nutshell, it positions words in a spot on a display where you can recognize the word without moving your eye. And that's really the secret to it.

HOBSON: And how does that work? Why does that help you read faster - to be able to recognize the word without moving your eye?

WALDMAN: Well, about 80 percent of the time reading, conventionally, is spent moving your eye from one word to the next. So just placing each word in a spot where you don't have to move your eye saves you a lot of time, and that time your brain can use to process the word you just read, and prepare for reading and recognizing the next word. And so by placing the word for you in a streaming text display, you're able to increase your reading speed effortlessly.

HOBSON: And does it work?

WALDMAN: Oh, it works fantastic. So, you know, we started this over two years ago with a very simple prototype. And what surprised me was how quickly people would increase their reading speed. So you'd show it to them at a slow speed, you know, just a little faster than they read normally, and within minutes they had asked to increase the speed to more than double their conventional speed. So it's something that, you know, we tested it with young people, with, you know, my 87-year-old aunt, and fantastic results.

HOBSON: How does the technology figure out which letter to make turn red right in the center or I guess slightly left of the center of the word?

WALDMAN: Yes, that's the secret. There is a character within a word based on the length of the word - that is where your eye will automatically go to recognize the word. And so we turn that character red simply as a device to get you to look there. You don't actually need the red letter. You just need to know where to look. So we have a device called the reticle, which is simply some crosshairs, you know, hash marks in the display where we want you to look. And to keep you looking there, we turn the recognition character red.

HOBSON: OK. Well, since this is radio, people can't see exactly how this works. Although we'll link to it at hereandnow.org, and you can check it out. But we want to give you an example of what it sounds like if you read 300 words per minute. Here's that.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

HOBSON: OK. And now let's listen to what it would sound like if you were reading at 600 words a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

HOBSON: And we're not even going to play 1,000 words a minute, which is the program's maximum. But essentially this is a treadmill for your eyes, right?

WALDMAN: It is, and I use that analogy often. You know, running on the road is hard. You're distracted. You're body doesn't, you know, really get into the perfect speed, unless you run a lot. With a treadmill, you set the speed, you hop on it, you don't have to worry about anything. You just relax and run. And it's the same with this technique: you set your speed, the words flow in, your brain processes them, and believe it or not, even at that 600-word-per-minute speed you just heard, your brain can recognize those words.

HOBSON: And why do we need this technology?

WALDMAN: Well, you know, we're still reading the way we, you know, read it when we were on stone tablets with carved hieroglyphs, you know?

HOBSON: Well, now, we have Kindles and iPads and things like that, right?

WALDMAN: Yeah, but we're - and we're still reading the same way, reading across, you know, lines and down pages. We don't need to. And so that's the first thing. But the real thing is reading on the go. And in fact, we call it focused reading on the go. You've got a few minutes. You want to get your email, your social posts. You got a little time to read part of a news article. Of course now you could read the whole thing because you're reading faster. And if you want to catch a piece of your book, grab that too. But it's all about reading on small screens on the go.

HOBSON: There are big questions about how much you actually retain, about reading comprehension when you're reading in this way. NBC News quoted a psychology professor who says that with short stuff, this works fine. With longer passages, comprehension goes to pieces. That's a quote.

WALDMAN: Yeah. And, of course, he's never tried it, and we know that because we know who's actually tried it. But I can tell you we have people reading books, and we test them, and they score higher when asked questions. So it's, you know, it's not an academic study. It's just done by us to make sure that, you know, we know that people can do it. There is a reporter for the Sun over in the U.K. who benchmarked himself reading "A Tale of Two Cities," and I encourage you to look at the results of what he tells his readers.

HOBSON: So you would be able to remember and comprehend as much reading a novel at, say, in an hour as you would if you were to take five hours to read it?

WALDMAN: Well, I'm not saying that. You know, there is a reading speed that's optimal for comprehension for each person. And, of course, everyone's brain is different. You know, the figure you've seen quoted in a lot of stories is 1,000 words a minute, and we have a guy who's reading 1,000 words a minute with perfect comprehension. I'd say he's a very rare case. Other people read with great comprehension, improved comprehension, at 350 to 400 words a minute, which is almost double their normal reading speed. And that's enough. You don't have to read a book in an hour.

HOBSON: And, of course, this is not a new idea, right? This goes all the way back decades.

WALDMAN: That's right. Rapid serial visual presentation was created back in the '80s. And, in fact, the science around eye recognition was done as early as the '60s. So these concepts have been around. Unfortunately, they were never synthesized into this concept that we've introduced. And so, you know, there's a fatal flaw in the conventional RSVP applications, and that's why you haven't seen them until now.

HOBSON: They really need to come up with another acronym for that.

(LAUGHTER)

WALDMAN: RSVP, right.

HOBSON: Yeah. I think that that one's already in use. When will we be able to get this?

WALDMAN: Well, as announced two weeks ago in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, it'll be available in an email application for Samsung's new Gear 2 smart watch and Galaxy S5 smartphone. We are rolling out a software kit that allows developers to build it into applications and integrate it into Web pages. So, you know, very soon you'll start seeing these appear.

HOBSON: And how much is it going to cost?

WALDMAN: Oh, it's not going to cost anything. Well, for the publishers, the people who are integrating it into their sites, we've decided to make it a no-cost license. And that's because we want to build a community of a billion users, and we want to do it as fast as we can.

HOBSON: So what's in it for you?

WALDMAN: Well, you know, it's the same, what was in it for Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat or WhatsApp, you know? There's a lot of large user-base platforms that, you know, look to monetize later. And that's the model we're following.

HOBSON: Just build a big community and figure out how to make money on it later.

WALDMAN: Yeah, that's the short way to put it. But we think there's a lot of opportunity. You know, there's a lot of analytics that are possible in this technique, because, you know, you're streaming text that, for the first time, you know, you know that someone's actually reading it. When you surf a Web page, you're not sure that anybody's reading the content on the page. So this is a way to know, OK, if it's being streamed, then the publisher knows, OK, people are actually reading it.

HOBSON: Frank Waldman is the CEO of Spritz technology. And you can see it for yourself at hereandnow.org. Frank, thanks so much for joining us.

WALDMAN: All right, Jeremy. Thanks a lot.

HOBSON: And, you know, Robin, just reading about this and talking to him, I was reminded of quote from Woody Allen. He said, I took a speed-reading course and read "War and Peace" in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Sort of.

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • Tim Rohe

    Part of why I read so slow is because I like to chew on words and really savor the language, rereading some passages over and over again. I don’t wish I could “read faster,” I just wish I more time to read. This technology may have some applications (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt), but they shouldn’t use literature to try and demonstrate it’s value. This is to literature what meal replacement shakes are to fine dining.

    • Marty

      Meal replacement shakes AREN’T fine dining and this ISN’T literature. I’m sure there were those who were saying the same thing about the printing press. Don’t try to make comparisons where there aren’t any.

      • Tim Rohe

        You have completely missed my point.

      • Lawrence

        Not so quick. Did you read the headline which states, read a novel in 90 minutes. Which suggests of course, literature.

        Tom Ashbrook had a guest on that explored the brain changes and ADD effects when reading online text and other changeable, flashing, moving, or linked text. These flashes like those in video games can set off epilepsy in some people.

    • Floppy Waffle

      Merp – Technology is scary!!!!! Save us Luddites from absorbing knowledge, it’s bad to comprehend things quickly. It will rape your soul and steal your babies.

  • andreawey

    My husband has had brain surgery recently, he had a tumor removed from his occipital lobe, and this has affected his vision in a weird way that he can’t seem to follow the words on the page. This might be a solution that could help him read again.

  • aj

    Thats a very cool app. I can see that I would like this for informational reading like news articles or perhaps technical articles. I wonder how this would work for reading for pleasure such as novels. Would spritzing a novel make it more or less pleasureable?
    Is there a dictionary component for obscure or unknown words? How easy is it to go back and find where you left off if you got distracted or wanted to review something which just sped by at over 500 wpm?
    Another question: Has there been any study if spritz is beneficial to persons suffering from dyslexia? Is the dyslexia font included or available?

    • aj

      Just checked out the spritz web site. Now I get it! The spritz box will allow me to read web content on my phone without zooming, sliding content, or turning it sideways. That’s great! Their site also had a try it feature. I found even the 600 wpm speed readable!

      • Angela Nilles

        I could see this being really helpful for dyslexics. Especially if you can slow down the words to the speed you want, and then speed them up as you get better. Awesome!

  • Will

    TEXT BOOKS PLLLEEEAASSSEEE!!!

  • guest

    It would’ve been nice if Jeremy, rather than drooling over the app, asked more insightful questions. Mr. Waldman kept talking about better, faster, greater comprehension, but neglected to mention a single scientific study or a modicum of research supporting his claims. While I did browse their website and did try out the tool, it is clear that the content of the site was written purely for marketing purposes. Hopefully the apps based on this technology will actually deliver result, rather than fizzle out as the hype dies down. Time will tell….

  • treehugger

    I have a condition called Nystagmus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nystagmus
    As I’ve had it since I was an infant it has resulted in a learning disability.
    For which I take advantage of accommodations like giant font and text-to-speech.
    How does this new technology affect a person with my condition?

    • nick

      My boyfriend has that too treehugger. I would like to know that too. I also have two sons are dyslexic and would like to know if that would help or hurt a person with a learning disability like that. My boyfriend grew up in the 60′s-80′s in Italy until he moved to the US. I know that not many people have heard of Nystagmus or understand it. Good luck to you. :)

      • Cameron Boehmer

        Hey Nick. http://squirt.io is a free bookmarklet for this kind of RSVP speed reading that I built about a month ago. I’ve heard from more than a few dyslexic people that it has changed their lives.

  • Michael Curley

    When can I get the app?

  • Paula

    I went to the website and found spritzing easier on my eyes than moving from left to right on a page. If indeed this technology prevents eye strain, count me in.

  • Lawrence

    Headaches and eye strain are sure to result. In all of our millions of years, our eyes were never developed to register quickly flashing images for extended periods of time.

    • mike

      uhh what about tv?

      • Lawrence

        Quickly flashing images on TV do indeed cause a host of neurological problems like epilepsy in some people.

        And who knows what it’s doing to the rest of us. ADD has been listed as one of the problems associated with quick editing such as music videos.

  • Shan Morrissey

    I tried Spritz today, and went up to 600 wpm…9 hours later, I still have a severe (really severe!) Headache! Spritz should come with a warning!!!!
    Shan

  • Ady Bg

    Make for more other platform (Symbian v3,v5)

  • Jennifer

    It worked well for me until I got really dizzy.

  • Kathy Brown

    I experienced this sample above, and, while I had a high comprehension rate, I
    felt very tense while reading this way; by the time I was finished, my shoulders were raised and I was barely breathing. I have some real concerns about this
    method, as I compare it to what I know about reading. A major aspect of reading
    comprehension is the ability to take in whole chunks of information at a time.
    The eyes, when moving properly, scan easily across lines of text from left to right in small jumps called saccades, from one piece of information to the next. Slow readers have many saccades as they make their way across the page, perhaps stopping at each word; fast readers have fewer saccades, and take in a lot of information with each movement of the eyes. If the eyes are not tracking together properly, scanning text becomes challenging, and both reading fluency and comprehension suffer. Tracking is one of the physical skills of reading, which may be addressed through vision therapy, and such programs as Educational Kinesiology, also known as Brain Gym®. Part of the Brain Gym program is to build “lateral integration” in order to use both sides of the body and brain (and therefore, both eyes) at the same time. This can transform the experience of eye teaming and tracking, and, therefore, reading. If scanning is a problem, there are things you can do about it to become a fluent reader!

  • Paul

    I found a great app for android. it’s easy, simple, and so helpful.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=br.com.devplm.android.speedreading

  • Floppy Waffle

    This isn’t designed to replace books. It’s designed to help speed reading and comprehension. If you’re replacing your books with this, you are not using it correctly. It works on a similar principle to the brain training games online and on video game systems. It’s a tool, to help people comprehend bursts of texts quickly, and improve short term memory. These comments are hilarious because it illustrates peoples inability to rationalize change, or difference in a healthy way. These comments read like a bunch of terrified Luddites. This isn’t taking away grandma’s books, or replacing webpages. Hehe. Everyone takes themselves way to seriously on the internets, lighten up, and try something new.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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