As anyone who makes or reads ebooks can tell you, kerning (the spacing between words on a page/screen) can have a keen impact on readability. Wide irregular spaces between words (like what is currently inflicted upon Kindle owners) can make for a more difficult to read text than if the spacing is kept even.
This is an accepted principle of formatting, and it is also an idea that Asymmetrica turns on its head.
Asymmetrica is a new extension for Chrome, Firefox, and other web browsers which is designed to make the text on a web page more readable by adjusting the spacing between words.
According to Quartz:
But one tech company believes something as simple as increasing the size of spacing between certain words could improve people’s reading comprehension. Research going back decades has found that “chunking,” a technique that separates text into meaningful units, provides visual cues that help readers better process information.
Grounded in this thinking, San Francisco-based Asymmetrica Labs has created a tool that uses an algorithm to logically insert spaces to websites’ text.
You can see an example of Asymmetrica in action in the following screensnap:
Asymmetrica was developed by neuroscientist Chris Nicholas and Ken Brownfield, and it was incubated by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin’s HVF innovation lab.
Asymmetrica’s developers aren’t giving away any of its secrets, but a close examination suggests that the extension adds additional space in a way that splits a sentence into phrases usually beginning or ending with a short preposition like “of” or “to”.
The developers say that this helps readers by breaking the text into comprehensible chunks. “Some struggling readers, or low-literacy readers, will read one word at a time,” Nicholas tells Quartz. “We’re nudging eye-movement patterns that good readers on their own have done naturally.”
Nicholas also noted that stronger readers could also benefit from this extension; it can improve their reading speeds when they’re tired, under stress, or in a hurry.
There’s no word on when we might see this in ebooks, and I would not expect it soon. Remember, hyphenation and decent are still considered radical concepts to some major ebook platforms (let’s not even talk about the publishers making ugly books) so it’s unlikely that a radical idea like Asymmetrica will see widespread adoption.
But if you would like to try it yourself, you’ll find the extensions on the Asymmetrica website. There’s also a website widget so web publishers can add the new spacing across an entire site (I’m going to try it this weekend).
image by amberaccb