I’m hooked on Spritz

I like to believe I’m hard to impress when it comes to new web gadgets, and technology generally. But I have caught the recent buzz around a new bit of wizardry called Spritz, and I am actually dazzled. I see very interesting opportunities in marketing – small ones, and great big ones.

Spritz is an app, from a vendor called Spritz, Inc., that is designed to solve two distinct, genuine and important objectives:

  • Sustained reading on a small screen, such as a smart phone. I hear smug assurances that people do this every day productively, but I’m sorry – reading more than a couple of paragraphs on a five-inch screen is torture.
  • Reading MUCH, MUCH faster.

That’s right, speed reading. Spritz promises to enable reading at double or triple your normal speed, with minimal loss of comprehension, by squirting the text through a small window and showing it to you one word at a time. It turns out that you can comprehend words that come at you at a rate of 350, 400, even 600 per minute this way.

Spritz, further, enhances this experience by drawing your eye to a scientifically determined “Optimal Recognition Point” (ORP) – each word has its own ORP, and if you focus just there, you have the fastest and likeliest recognition and comprehension of that word. Spritz highlights the ORP by creating a “redicle” there – it turns that specific letter red, and flags it with vertical hash marks.

Here: Try it.

Were you able to keep up? Did you notice the typo?

The developers say presenting one word at a time reduces the time-consuming work your eyes have to do in normal, linear reading, moving from one word or phrase to the next. There actually is a word for that – it’s called a “saccade.” Scientists estimate that each saccade takes about one tenth of a second.

Spritz says its system allows you to read faster by eliminating the saccade, saving both time and exertion.

This kind of story normally sets off “too good to be true, where’s the catch” alarms in my head. Spritz Inc. evidently understands this, because their whole web experience is intended to get you to just try it. I did, at various speeds.

I’m here to report the thing really works.

Apparently it works for a lot of people, because there has been substantial online oooohing and ahhhing about it. Spritz also has drawn its share of criticism. Some skeptics suggest there’s nothing new here – other web gimmicks, such as Spreeder (from a company called eReflect), have enabled one-word-at-a-time reading too. I’ve played with it; Spreeder looks superficially like Spritz, but without the ORP or the redicles. I can only speak for myself, but after a couple of sentences in Spreeder, my mind wandered and I could feel myself losing comprehension – not so with Spritz. (Your experience may be different.)

The other snarks focus on the vendor’s slightly grandiose “change the world” marketing copy (Remember the Segway?), and on its frankly silly suggestion that anyone should consider reading an entire book using Spritz. Critics have suggested that this simply wouldn’t work – eventually, your comprehension would have to wane, and anyway, who would want to read “Harry Potter” on a phone, much less one word at a time? I’m inclined to agree. But so what?

The app isn’t actually available yet. When it is, I can think of at least two different ways I’d be very interested in putting it to work:

Micro Scale

People presented with a document in a work setting frequently look for an abstract, or even better, a bulleted summary. If there is one, it tells the reader whether the document is worth a full read, usually later. I would love to be able to Spritz the abstract.

A very practical example of this would be in a customer service call center, where an agent takes a question, and then has to provide a quick answer. Odds are, that agent is looking the answer up in an online knowledge base, based on a search that returns several possible results, each of which can be lengthy and detailed. If I were that agent, Spritzing the entire abstract of an article from the knowledge base would tell me far more than the title, in about as much time as it would take to read the title in saccade fashion.

Macro Scale

Think BIG. My gut tells me Spritz is an ideal medium for signage. Not a highway billboard – but imagine yourself on a crowded urban street, or at a trade show, with dozens or hundreds of messages competing for your attention. Conventional wisdom is that your sign has a few seconds at the outside to capture the passerby’s attention, limiting the message to one phrase, or an image. But suppose you were able to deliver a paragraph of information in the same space and the same few seconds. To me that’s a potentially powerful application for Spritz on a large scale.

In fact, I tested it. I took a brief video capture from Spritz’s web site, blew it up on a 55 inch television, and watched it from 30 feet away. What Spritz does as an app on a PC monitor or an iPad, it does just as well as a video clip on a large screen TV. Once you have the message translated into Spritz format, you don’t even need the app. A looping video will work…on a trade show booth backdrop, on a JumboTron in an arena, in an elevator, or even embedded in a PowerPoint slide.

Spritzing isn’t a perfect experience. One issue is in the comprehension of obscure terms or proper nouns, especially things like oddly spelled trademarks or foreign place names. Comprehension at 400 words per minute seems to some degree to depend on your familiarity with the word – it doesn’t really work if the term isn’t in your vocabulary. That, obviously, is an issue in marketing. Spritz needs to develop a crisp answer for that question.

But I’m hooked. I’m very interested in seeing where this goes.

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