It's an unfortunate fact of life for web writers … people viewing text online tend to skim through it, as opposed to reading each and every word. With that in mind, researchers at Finland's Aalto University have created a program that lets people skim even faster, while retaining more information.

Ordinarily, when we scroll too quickly through documents, the blurriness of the text makes it impossible to discern. Additionally, even if our eyes "see" it, our brain needs at least half a second to discern what the text says. That's where the Spotlights software comes in.

It automatically detects "visually-important" content such as headlines, tables or images, on the pages that are scrolling by. This content is briefly superimposed over top of the scrolling text, drawing the user's attention to it. In this way, it's possible to get a sense of what's being said, without having to scroll slowly enough to pick out the important stuff manually.

So far, test subjects have been able to retain information while scrolling at speeds of up to 20 pages per second.

"Browsing of long texts speeds up by 60 percent and less than half as much time is spent locating the desired locations in the text," says postdoctoral researcher Byungjoo Lee. "In addition, the probability of noticing points of interest in the text is increased by 210 percent compared to normal scrolling technique."

Although still in prototype form, it is hoped that Spotlights will soon be integrated into applications such as browsers and PDF viewers. The system can be seen in use, in the following video.

Source: Aalto University