Monday, July 25, 2016

Hacking reading: Is there a better way?

Came across Google's latest use of machine-learning: making "e-comic books" more readable.

One of the challenges of reading such fine literature on a mobile device is the small print that is within the bubbles.

Google's solution? Bubble Zoom.

As per Ars Technica:

"Google is tackling this problem the way it seems to be tackling every problem lately: with machine learning. Google has taught its army of computers to detect the speech bubbles in comic books, allowing you to zoom in on them with just a tap. The bubbles lift off the page and get bigger without affecting the underlying image. This lets you see the entire page while still reading the text. Google calls the feature "Bubble Zoom.""

Here are a couple of screenshots that show how it works:

For those that want to try this out on their Android device, you can download some free preview titles on the Google Play store.

Of course the obvious point, as mentioned by Ars Technica above, is that machine learning is being by Google and others to solve such interesting problems. The entire DC and Marvel comic book library has the Bubble Zoom feature enabled, which shows the power of machine learning to essentially reconfigure a massive amount of content.

The other point worth noting is how this technology fundamentally alters the way we consume text.

We have different channels, video, podcasts, and audio-books and can access books digitally but plain old reading has not changed that much. Zoom Bubble attempts to do that by building interactivity into the traditionally static medium of comic books.

To be honest I was surprised when I polled my IT Audit and Innovation class in January 2016 to see really none of them had shifted to e-books. They still rather have the physical copy, highlight and take notes.

That being said, a lot of credit should be given to Amazon for trying to go a long way to make it comfortable to read and enable you to access the content from multiple devices.

I’ve been experimenting with e-reading the Kindle, Samsung Note 4, iPad and iPhone.

The reader of choice depends on how you absorb information. If you want to savor your book and slowly digest, then Kindle is the easiest on the eyes

However, for us reading-for-productivity, i.e. if you are the type of person that needs to highlight and then extract notes, for the purposes presenting, researching, or blogging, then I think the Note 4 or the iPad is best. 

With the Kindle ecosystem, when you highlight the text (regardless of the device) its captured and stored on the cloud and then you can always access your notes there. For example, I highlighted the text below on my mobile device and it appears in the cloud (i.e. by logging into 

“ although GitHub is currently optimized for developers, similar platforms will eventually emerge for lawyers, doctors, publicists and other professionals. The platform has already been extended into enterprise software development with a successful paid business model, and can or soon will be used by governments, non-profits and educational institutions. GitHub charges users a monthly subscription—ranging from $7 to $200—to store programming source code. Andreessen Horowitz, one of the world’s leading venture capital firms, recently invested $100 million in GitHub. It was the VC firm’s largest investment round ever.”

In terms of iPad/iPhone versus Note 4, the Note 4 you can use its stylus to highlight text but you have to take an extra step to select the colour you want (you have 3 colors to choose from). In contrast, with iPad/iPhone you can just pick the colour right from the menu that pop-ups when you select a piece of text. The iPad’s larger form factor is also good for scan-reading. Of course the advantage for me on the Note 4/iPhone is that it’s my mobile device so it eliminates the need to carry around extra device.

One way to improve the readability is to change the background colour to Sepia from white. I have found it to be easier on the eyes.

The ability to move through multiple devices shows the brilliance of Amazon harnessing the power of open, mobile, cloud and seamless connectivity across platforms.

They could have gone the closed approach, i.e. you have to read their e-books off of their device. But by being open it enables the consumer to consume content in a manner that works for us. Microsoft has gone down this road as well with Office. I originally thought this was a bad idea but later recanted.

On a more critical note, as I have blogged before Amazon offers to US customers ONLY the ability to sync their audiobooks (Audible is owned by Amazon)  to their kindle ebooks for certain titles. It would be nice if this feature was also available out of the US.

What I've found to be a productivity hack, is to listen to the audio book on my Audible app at 2-3X speeds while driving around. I've self-diagnosed myself as an audiolearner it does help to learn things and get a good grasp of the topic. Such an approach can also help get the overall context of the material being presented. The Audible app enables you to bookmark, so that is a good way to track what you have to read up later.

Then I go through the Kindle e-book and highlight the parts I want to extract off the cloud. You can do this on the commute in or just waiting in line. The trick here is not to re-read the book but just extract those pieces of texts you wanted to focus on while listening to the audiobook. Moving the bookmarks from the audiobook to the e-books acts like a secondary review ensuring you've extracted all the content that's relevant to your presentation, research, blog post, etc. Alternatively, moving from the audiobook to the e-book may be the way you actually digest the content if you are more of a visual/text oriented learner. I personally need to do this with numbers and dates.

Finally, if you want to move the highlighted text off the cloud, try this to move the content to Evernote.

Although I think there are better ways out there to hack reading, I think the Amazon ecosystem goes a long way to get us there. One day, I hope, they will bring Immersion Reading to the world :)

No comments: