Friday, June 24, 2005

Making reading on the web "better than on paper"

A research project at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is using artificial intelligence to identify relevant sections of text in a document based on the search terms you used to find it. provides an internetworked compendium of commentary and analysis of Shakespeare's masterwork. And the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab is using Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to enable long texts to be read on tiny cell phone screens.

The projects are all mentioned in a Christian Science Monitor piece entitled 'How the Web changes your reading habits'. But I think this headline is a misnomer. What the projects show is that reading can be enhanced by leveraging the unique aspects of the web.

News organizations need to embrace these techniques -- hyperlinking, natural language processing and other AI techniques, and the low cost of providing large archives of information -- to give readers a reason to use their websites for more than a quick scan of the top headlines. Granted, these types of sites aren't cheap to implement, so maybe they could be provided as a premium service -- readers need a reason to pay news organizations, and providing commodity news just doesn't meet the value test anymore.

Of course, given the lameness of most MSM efforts to take advantage of the web (see Wikitorial Pulled Due to Vandalism, these types of sophisticated information applications are likely out of their reach for the foreseeable future.

More on the LA Times wikitorial fiasco to come. For now, let me sum up my opinion on the subject with one word: Duh.