This tool changes text color to make online reading easier

by Elyssa Pachico
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

News sites looking to attract readers with decreasing attention spans may find it worth experimenting with a tool meant to make reading easier.

Beeline Reader changes the color of black text on web pages, creating lines of alternating color, as seen below in a sample screenshot from IJNet:

Beeline Reader.JPG

Users can install Beeline Reader as an extension on their web browser or download it as an iOS app. It can also be applied to Amazon ebooks and PDFs. Once downloaded, users can choose to activate Beeline Reader for all websites, just several, or one web page at a time. There are also options to customize the color scheme.

The tool works on languages that read from left to right, as can be seen below in this screenshot from IJNet’s Persian website:

Persian Beeline Reader.JPG

There may still be a few kinks when it comes to Chinese, according to IJNet’s experiments:

Beeline Reader Chinese.JPG

Beeline Reader CEO Nick Lum said one of the inspirations for the tool was his experience reading an ebook, circa 2004. “I was thinking about ways you could do things on a screen that you can’t do on a piece of paper,” he told IJNet. “One of those things is colored text.”

Scientific research on color perception and reading went on to inform Beeline Reader’s development, Lum said.

“When you’re reading, your brain is juggling four different things,” Lum said. “You get to the end of a line, you have to move the eye to left to find a new line. It’s like juggling a fifth ball. Our technology makes it so you don’t have to juggle that fifth ball. Your eyes automatically know where to go. It’s like driving an automatic transmission as opposed to stick shift.”

Lum launched the tool while working as a corporate lawyer; he now runs Beeline Reader full-time.  

While many initial users were those diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia or autism, Lum said he believes journalists could make great use of the tool as well. Given that more people are reading text on ever-smaller screens — usually while moving in cars or trains — Beeline Reader makes it easier for readers to stay engaged with the material, he said.

This could be particularly relevant for newsrooms who want to encourage readers to finish longer, in-depth articles, he added.

“If you look at research on how people read on screen versus paper, people skim a lot more,” Lum said. “If you’re skimming an article, and then you get distracted by an email or Facebook, you have that split second where you’re thinking, I could keep reading this. If you’re not engaged, if you’ve just been skimming, then it’s much more likely you’ll just jump out and never come back.”

Lum estimated that Beeline Reader is used on millions of web pages each week, in more than 60 languages. The tool is free to use for up to a month, after which users can switch to a US$10 per year plan or a US$30 per year plan.

Users can also take an online test to see if they read faster while using the tool or not (for the record, the writer of this article read 19 percent faster using Beeline Reader, according to the test results).

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Anders Sandberg.