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Speed reading with a game station

Reading a book could one day involve a joystick.

At O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference this week, Maribeth Back showcased results of experiments that emerged from her research group at the Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Laboratory, or FXPAL. Computer scientists developed more than 10 prototypes of reading devices years ago, and then began focusing on the human experience of reading through these new technologies.

One design, called the Speeder Reader, combined a computer protocol for speed reading with video game controllers like the joystick, letting readers "drive" through a book. The built-in technology called RSVP, for rapid serial visual presentation, delivered to a small screen one word or phrase at a time. That system reduces the eye motion, or saccadic jumps, of readers.

The results, Back said, showed that readers with little training on the system could digest up to 2,000 words per minute in some configurations, or at least double the speed of reading a bound book.

"There's no white space, just white time," Back said. Authors could write novels using rhythm as punctuation, she said.

Another FXPAL book experiment called the Walk-In Comix didn't work as well. The idea let people read comic books through large-scale graphics, text and sound on surrounding walls, or kinds of narrative labyrinths. People could "read with the body," she said.

But readers weren't given enough instruction on how to follow the story line in the labyrinth, she said. "People were confused."