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Brave promises websites will load 20 times faster with SpeedReader mode

The simplified web pages load a whopping 20 to 27 times faster, the startup says. The AI-based tool protects privacy better, too.

Brave browser logo
Brave Software

With a new mode called SpeedReader, the Brave browser will use AI technology to strip clutter out of websites so they load more than 20 times faster and trample your privacy a lot less, the startup said.

Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox, Vivaldi Technologies' Vivaldi, Microsoft's Edge and other browsers have reader modes designed to show simplified versions of many websites, stripping away ads, sidebars, videos and other elements. SpeedReader takes that approach, but instead of first rendering the website and then boiling it down into a reader view, it strips out content it judges to be undesirable before it's even downloaded, much less displayed, Brave said in a blog post Thursday.

The result, according to a Brave research paper on SpeedReader: pages load a whopping 20 to 27 times faster, use 2.4 times less memory, and use 84 percent less network data. That could profoundly transform the web -- especially on smartphones that often have more limited computing power, battery life and network speed.

"The drastic improvements in performance, reduction in bandwidth use and elimination of trackers in reader mode make the approach practical for continuous use," Brave said in the research paper. In other words, you'll leave it running instead of actively enabling it every now and again.

Brave, co-founded and led by former Firefox leader Brendan Eich, is already shaking up the browser market by blocking ads and ad tracking technology by default. It's attracted more than 5 million people who use it monthly. If SpeedReader works as planned, it could accelerate that adoption -- and the disruption to advertising-supported websites.

Facebook, Google, and countless other websites are funded chiefly by ads, although paywalls and free story limits are increasingly common at news sites. Ad blocking, which hundreds of millions of people already enable, threatens that advertising approach. Brave, while blocking ads and ad trackers by default, isn't opposed to online ads, though.

It offers instead a payment system based on a crypto-token called the basic attention token (BAT). Brave is in the process of building a targeted advertising system into the browser that uses data the software itself gathers and keeps to itself. If you opt into the system, Brave will get a cut of the ad revenue -- and so will you -- in the form of BAT payments. Brave also can redirect payments you've received to websites and YouTube Twitch, Reddit and Twitter users you see online.

Brave expects to build SpeedReader into Brave sometime in 2019, the company said.

SpeedReader on by default

SpeedReader doesn't work on all pages. Its AI system -- trained on a selection of 2,833 websites -- worked on 22 percent of nearly 20,000 pages tested, including 31 percent of those linked from Twitter and 42 percent of those linked from Reddit. Where it did work, it blocked 100 percent of the ads and ad trackers that were flagged by the EasyList and EasyPrivacy lists that track advertisers and ad trackers, Brave said.

"SpeedReader is able to achieve privacy improvements at least as good [as], and almost certainly exceeding, existing ad and tracking blockers, on readable pages," Brave said.

SpeedReader is "designed to be 'always on,' attempting to provide a readable presentation of every paged fetched," Brave said in its research paper. One drawback to that approach, though, is its extra processing doesn't deliver any benefits on web apps that aren't suited to reader modes.

Another drawback is that it blocks interactivity that you may well want. "Making sure that the user has the ability to disable SpeedReader would be important in such cases," the Brave paper said.

The approach reflects the increasing willingness of browser makers to override what web developers try to get a browser to show. Chrome blocks ads on websites it deems too cluttered, Safari blocks some trackers, and Firefox is moving toward tracker blocking by default, too. Reader modes also significantly modify pages, as do screen readers and other assistive technologies to help people with disabilities.

First published Nov. 16, 11:03 a.m. PT.
Update, 1:39 p.m.: Adds that Brave expects to add the feature to its browser in 2019.

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