Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Using the web changes your reading habits.

Gregory Lamb writes for The Christian Science Monitor an article on how the web changes reading habits. The article at first sounds promising and very suggestive, but it is nothing more than a brief report on a couple of theories for artificial intelligence systems that basically try to predict what you would be interested in reading. One of these theories is the theory of ScentHighlights. From the article:

The reading experience online "should be better than on paper," Chi says. He's part of a group at PARC developing what it calls ScentHighlights, which uses artificial intelligence to go beyond highlighting your search words in a text. It also highlights whole sections of text it determines you should pay special attention to, as well as other words or phrases that it predicts you'll be interested in. "Techniques like ScentHighlights are offering the kind of reading that's above and beyond what paper can offer," Chi says.

While readers might not feel a need to use ScentHighlights with the next Harry Potter novel, the software could help students, academics, and business people quickly extract specific information from other written material.

ScentHighlights gets its name from a theory that proposes that people forage for information much in the same way that animals forage in the wild. "Certain plants emit a scent in order to attract birds and bees to come to them," Chi says. ScentHighlights uncovers the "scent" that bits of information give off and attract readers to it.

I like the idea that reading online should be a better experience than on paper. I think right now a lot of people get turned off from technologies like e-books because the experience is not as pleasant as reading the book, even with the little extras like better searching in the text. I have to admit the idea of foraging is intriguing. I know that for work related reading I often "forage" to find the essential stuff I need. I am not sure about finding a "scent," but I am sure other readers may have different insights. I guess I was disappointed in the article because I wanted to learn more about actual readers and how their habits are changing. While the theories discussed are intriguing, the headline left me wanting more. A misleading scent?

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