Monday, June 11, 2007

"...phrase-parsed text displays that more naturally match the way our eyes perceive and capture...?"

I found this link to Live Ink via Dave Pollard's blog, How to Save the World. At first glance, the technique seems to turn prose into a form of prose-poetry via subtle bullet points (tho' without the actual bullet points).

Read the Moby Dick example, and see if you agree. I tried to paste a small sample here for you, but the very clever programming would not allow me to. You'll have to take a look at it yourself in order to see what I mean.

I have often wondered whether books could ever be satisfactorily read-- with ease and in comfort-- on some kind of hand-held computer. Having learned to read across the pages, from left to right, a small screen just seemed so inadequate for accommodating even a modest page of text.

However, the Live Ink format leads the eyes to read... using narrow columns of curving text... down the page. This is the first time I've felt tempted to wonder about having an iPod or other MP3 device for reading.


Jeff W said...

That's an interesting idea, especially if it's based on some sort of visual/reading research.

That said, I had two very different impressions in reading the Moby Dick sample and the About Walker Reading Technologies page (which can be read in the "Live Link" format).

With Moby Dick I was reading the text as I would read "shape poetry," imparting meaning (of some sort) to the pattern of the words on the page—it was as if that pattern and my perception of the sample as "literature" transformed it into concrete poetry. It was like a cognitive illusion; I felt distracted by my own misperception. I'm not sure if, after a few minutes, I'd just simply read.

I read the About page just as "information" and the Live Link format made that a lot easier. The information just popped due to the "chunking."

I can definitely see the technology having application on small screen devices.

In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing the technology applied to Glenn's blog or Salon's format, generally, where the column width always strikes me as a little too wide for truly comfortable reading.

William Timberman said...

Interesting. I found the extended description of hordes of people gathered around the edges of Manhattan, staring at the sea, much more vivid in this format. I suspect that this was because there was less tendency to jump ahead, as there often is for me in large blocks of text.

A personal idiosyncrasy, perhaps, but I found that the slowed pace, combined with an easier way to return to the spot where I paused, contributed to a deeper focus, for a longer period, on what I was reading. I don't know that this could be sustained over a period of several hours without driving me crazy, but I'd be willing to try it.

From a typographical perspective, column width is critical in preventing reader fatigue. One of my pet peeves with Microsoft Word is that -- on Windows systems, at least -- it defaults to Times Roman, which was originally designed for narrow newspaper columns, and is a royal pain in the eyes for 8 1/2 by 11 office documents.

certifiedprepwn3d said...

I have immediate ambivalence toward the Live Ink page.

Pro - I agree that the clear font, sensible chunks of meaning, narrow column width, etc. made for quick and easy reading. For a couple of years now, whenever I send an email about something that needs doing (or responding to) to a busy/powerful person, I limit the email to a pithy introductory statement followed by one-sentence item descriptions, each with a line of spacing between them. It seems to work well.

Con - I had a similar feeling about the Moby Dick extract. (I am rereading that book right now, oddly enough). I think it might not be a good idea to attempt a straight reformat of ornate/ poetic/ fictive text into this LiveInk format -- it seems more for business or commercial writing.

Tangentially, for sheer ambivalence for me, though, it is hard to beat shape poetry.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

Pasted sample:

     It is a way I have
         of driving off the spleen
             and regulating the circulation.

     Whenever I find myself
           growing grim
               about the mouth;
         whenever it is a damp,
              drizzly November in my soul;
       whenever I find myself
         involuntarily pausing
                before coffin warehouses,
              and bringing up the rear
                   of every funeral I meet;

Page 2 of 51

As I see this technique, it deals with concentration span deficiency, a disease created by or pandered to by music videos where no visual sequence lasts more than about 3 seconds. This seems to be the default concentration span of those who watch such things habitually.

I do not decry this formatting for text — it leads the reader naturally through the text by semantic units in a way that mere punctuation cannot. Punctuation was developed to give the reader an idea where the pauses in the text were and which units belonged together and at what levels — at least in the mind of the author.

Perhaps this formatting technique is the next logical step in the development of punctuation. On the other hand, it is also reminiscent of cuneiform texts of the third and second millennia where each semantic unit was written in its own case (look at the text of the Law Code of Hammurabi). Perhaps as someone once said there is nothing new under the sun.

Karen M said...

Jeff & WT: Since reading those samples, I have found myself reacting differently to the narrowness of blogger's "column." Because reading online is different, it probably does make sense. Although I wouldn't want such narrow columns of text in books (except poetry, etc.) I do think it would make reading on a small hand-held device much easier on the eyes and brain.

F,md: On a related topic, I've started Al Gore's book "Assault on Reason," and he begins in the first chapter with some things about science and neurology that deal with our attention span and how it is affected by different media and stimuli. (This is to help us understand why we-- as a society, and as a species-- are so easily manipulated by fear-mongering.) In particular, he mentions our attention span and how it is affected by the orienting response (which makes us aware of / helps us to respond appropriate to our environment).

[If anyone else decides to read it, perhaps we could discuss it here. I suspect there will be some relevant issues.]

And, thanks for that link to Hammurabi. If you ever want to do a post on something like that it, it's pretty easy to post the images (within the column limits, of course). I was impressed that you could copy and paste in that text. Maybe it's a browser issue, but when I'd right click on it, the entire text box would move around.

Certified... I use similar principles in my email, including adding line breaks myself, just to make them more readable.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

I was impressed that you could copy and paste in that text. Maybe it's a browser issue, but when I'd right click on it, the entire text box would move around.

I doubt that it is a browser issue. That is the way the text window is designed to work. To get around it, you have to trick it. The way I did it was to do a "select all" (either from the Edit menu or with ctrl-A). This selects all the text on the page and then you can copy the text in the reading window. When you paste the text you then have to delete the text from outside the window. Then you have to preserve the indentations manually because HTML will strip out the multiple spaces. This can be done by using the character entity for a non-breaking space,  , which HTML treats as a character not a space.
It's easier to alternate   with a real space so that the lines wrap in the window and you can see what you are doing, but it's not necessary.
Another tip (which may be browser dependent) if you want to see how someone did some neat bit of HTML work is to select the text and then right click. You should get a context menu that includes a "View selection source" option. Click on that an a window should open revealing the HTML behind the text.