Go ahead and try it out. Nothing to download, just click “Play that text”.
In the rest of the post I elaborate on similar software and the effectiveness of speed reading in general.
Comparing it to other available software
Other Web versions (see Spreeder and ZAPReader) are nice but lack some features which make Dictator and commercial programs more appealing, notably following the position in the text. Spreeder does have some more advanced rhythm options, though.
There are many commercial programs which offer even more features, such as integration with Office programs. Instead of trying to list them all here, I’ll point you to this comparison table of free and commercial RSVP programs.
I also want to make my version available for integration in other sites (say, for readers to read your blog posts), but I’m waiting for a few interested webmasters to contact me before I take the time to do it.
Why would one use RSVP? and the reality of speed reading
As mentioned briefly in my last post, some people believe this can help increase your reading speed. The idea is to gradually increase the reading speed, the number of words you read in a group, etc. by tweaking parameters in the software as you progress.
Recently, RSVP was also proposed as an alternative way to read on small displays such as cellphones. Some people seem to actually see RSVP as an alternative reading technique rather than simply a way to increase your “normal reading” speed.
My personal experience with the speed reading aspect is that in can indeed help you learn to focus more and reread back less of the text you read a line before. Also, it forces you to decrease subvocalization — hear the text in your head, or even whisper it. I personally never ended the in-head habit completely, though. Phrasal blurbs seem to overlap rather than disappear, if you will.
All these improvements translate in an increased reading speed for some material. They’re basic goals of “classic” speed reading techniques. A good reference for these techniques can be found at Wikibooks.
Speed reading software also has critics; see the bottom of the Wikibooks page.
Types of reading material
If you’re reading some advanced math textbook, taking the time to understand what you’re reading, sentence by sentence, naturally decreases your reading speed. Basically, speed reading is definitely no panacea for Will Hunting your way through a textbook every 30 minutes.
Where it can really help, though, in my experience (and as said by others), is when reading familiar material, say when reading the daily news or reading multiple opinion pieces on a given event.
Speed reading is to be combined with, but not confused with, skimming. Skimming is about not reading at all some parts. Speed reading is about reading faster the whole thing.
If any of you has comments on my application, bugs or suggestions, don’t hesitate to write to me.