The Compound Interest of Better Reader Engagement

Asymmetrica was founded to improve reading comprehension and speed. Not only for those who struggle with reading, but for those want to read and understand more in our increasingly hectic, distracted lifestyles.

Our collective reading ability has an enormous impact on our success and improved productivity, both as individuals and as communities. Improving reading isn’t just about improving literacy to an arbitrary baseline or standard—it’s about raising the bar for everyone.

There are a wide variety of technologies today that are targeted at improving our reading experience. Examples include web browser “Reader” modes, dedicated mobile apps that display certain content with fewer visual distractions, and solutions that creatively render text in a cut-and-paste window or in a mini-site.

While we support all efforts to improve our reading experiences, these fragmented approaches don’t scale. Over three billion people have access to the internet as of 2016. Distracting and obtrusive solutions will never be able to reach a significant percentage of the world’s readers. Most of these solutions require active effort from readers; for example, clicking a button to turn on Reader mode for each page. Making readers do more work when reading is a product design flaw.

So how can we fix this, and reach more readers?

Asym was built as a new, unobtrusive technology that will scale to reach billions of readers with minimal effort. We want to improve as many lives as we can, and ensure that no one is left behind.

Asym’s formatting introduces visual cues into the text which improve the reading experience.

This technique is called “chunking”, and you can read more about it in our whitepaper.

Our testing has shown that Asym increases the perceived enjoyment and value of reading. This is exciting, but what does it mean?

Real world impact

When we first took a look at users of our free web browser extension, we saw that they were 29% more engaged by what they read on the web. This is not specific to certain genres or regions; this represents all content across all visited websites. Increasing overall reading engagement by such a significant amount is unheard-of, at least to us.

Over time, we’ve performed many other tests with Asym Spacing in the real world and with real companies, and we’ve collected some direct examples below from our own controlled experiments.

If you read content formatted with Asym Spacing, you will be:

21% more likely to finish reading content on the web

When it’s easier to understand what you’re reading, the text is more rewarding and takes less effort (less cognitive load). You’ll get more out of what you read, and read less of what you don’t need.

7% more likely to share the content that you read

The more we enjoy what we read, the more likely we are to think of a friend who may also enjoy the book or article. Not only is content with Asym Spacing more valuable to us, it’s more valuable to our friends as well.

32% more likely to convert when you read landing page content

When we’re looking for a product or service that we’d like to use either as individuals or for the companies we work for, we want to understand content quickly, make the decision that suits us, and get on with our lives.

And if you’re marketing a product or service, your message will be more engaging and sink in deeply with Asym Spacing.

Asym increases click-through rates for ad creatives by 24%

Your creatives only have a fraction of a second to capture a reader’s attention. Readers more quickly and thoroughly engage with your message with Asym Spacing.

Besides the graphical design of the creative, the goal of the reader is important to how they engage with your content.

Readers who are actively pursuing a product or service will spend more time reading the text of your creative than any other part1.

We also see especially good results with readers who are a good demographic fit for your product or service:

Readers whose demographics fit your message are 66% more likely to click

Increasing clicks is important, but if your message is appropriate and on-target for a reader, they are much more likely to engage with your Asym-Spaced creative than readers who see your regular creative. In that split second of time, you engage with more of the right readers than ever before.

A frictionless funnel

Creative content in ads, email, landing pages, and sign-up flows are all part of a conversion funnel. Each component provides an opportunity to keep your readers engaged. As your narrative continues, Asym can provide incremental improvements at each step, compounding the benefit and guiding more users to your ultimate destination: a purchase, a subscription, a sign-up, a donation.

Let’s consider a site that’s acquiring new users at a rate of 5% per month over 12 months. If you apply Asym to one of the steps in your acquisition funnel (e.g., an ad, an email, a landing page, a page in your sign-up flow) with an example 10% increase in success on that page with Asym Spacing (to 5.5%), the benefit can be significant.

But what if you apply Asym to three steps? Or five?

Compounding Reader Interest

As you can see, the Asym Effect compounds every time your user is faced with a decision. The more decisions (steps in your funnel), the more valuable Asym will be. Because Asym keeps your users more engaged, it helps maintain their momentum. Every extra step will of course reduce conversion, but Asym helps keep more users in the funnel each step of the way.

keep_in_funnel_blog

The graph may also look a lot like simple compounding interest, and that’s really what it is. When you invest in improving your users’ reading experience across all of your content, the benefits compound and reinforce via network effects—your readers’ interest in your content compounds.

What does Asym mean for readers?

As readers, we benefit by receiving more value from everything we read. When the content is easier to understand, we’re more likely to find what we’re looking for and we spend less time looking.

What does Asym mean for content providers?

Developing successful content requires an investment in research, design, A/B testing, iteration, and skilled designers and creative writers. These established approaches are critical to representing your brand, your message, or you as clearly as possible.

It’s tough to squeeze game-changing conversion rates out of approaches that are already extensively developed. That’s where Asym comes in. Asym disrupts the standard approach to increasing conversion rates by operating on a completely different level. It works by fundamentally changing how we interact with text—it changes how we read. Asym improves the success of even the most finely tuned content and creatives.

Providers of content, products, or services can boost the number of readers who continue through every step of their journey. These new readers will also have a much more directed interest in your overall brand and message. Asym is the final step to building the most effective creatives possible.

What does Asym mean for Global Literacy?

We think that improving literacy by any strategy is important for everyone: For native speakers or speakers of non-native languages, for any language, for any community, in any country.

If we can make reading more accessible, we can help people read and learn on a level playing field. We can enable people to improve their lives. We can help people contribute to and improve their community. Actions can make a difference.

This is why Asym is free for personal use. We hope you’ll try Asym for yourself to improve your experience on the web.

And if you want your message to hit your target audience as accurately and as effectively as possible, connect with us to discuss how we can help.

 

NOTES

  1. Rayner K., Miller B., Rotello C. M. (2008). Eye Movements When Looking at Print Advertisement: The Goal of the Viewer Matters. Appl. Cogn. Psychol. 22(5): 697–707, 10.1002/acp.1389

Introducing Asym Spacing

The spaces between the words we read every day have remained essentially unchanged since the Early Middle Ages. Uniform, unvarying word spacing dominates how type is arranged despite radical technological developments in the past millennium in the way text and documents are created and distributed. But why are even spaces the norm, when decades of science have proven that uneven spaces add significant value to comprehension?

This is why we founded Asymmetrica Labs – to make this nascent discovery an accessible technology – and this is our story.

Almost every modern writing system uses punctuation. This function seems crucial and obvious to us now, but punctuation, including word spacing, took centuries to develop and catch on as practice. Brace yourself for a brief history of the status quo.

Greek Papyrus
Example of continuous writing in Ancient Greek.

The earliest punctuation was developed around the 5th century BCE by the Greeks who used the paragraphos to separate text passages into paragraphs, or text sections. Before this point:

GREEKWASWRITTENWITHOUTWORDSPACINGORANYOTHERWORDMARKINGS.

Paragraphos
Examples of paragraphos, one of the earliest forms of punctuation, used to mark document sections.

The paragraphos was followed by the dicolon and tricolon, used by ancient Greek playwrights to indicate when an actor should pause for breath when reading the work aloud. Aristophanes of Byzantium in c. 200 BCE used punctus, which were dots at various heights on a line: kōlon, komma, and periodos to indicate pause length. As you may guess, these marks evolved into their modern namesakes.

Adding spaces between words on the other hand is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively recent development. In the 7th-8th centuries Irish scribes began adding visual cues in order to help make Latin more readable to non-native speakers. These visual cues were the spaces between words that we know today.

But the use of word spacing with modern hierarchical punctuation (reminiscent of Aristophanes’) took until the 19th century to become a systematic practice. This system of separating words with uni-­size blanks is used in many modern writing systems for Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic scripts.

In 1951, North & Jenkins published a study [1] which showed that participants read faster and showed better comprehension (10.9% better) when the phrases were made more obvious. Multiple studies on phrase-based (also called “syntactically cued”) formatting have been published throughout the latter half of the 20th century which corroborate this important finding.

But why have these studies not been applied to mainstream reading materials?

One answer is that both the publishing industry and typography in general are conservative and slow, if not resistant, to change.

Another key reason is the intersection of technology, distribution, and ease of use, which have not historically been available to embrace and leverage the science for everyday use.

One more answer is that some approaches to phrase-formatting try to change people’s reading habits and how documents are arranged instead of augmenting the natural reading habits of good readers.

Take attempts to reform the English spelling system as a case study in technology reform. There have been many (well intentioned) attempts to simplify the unwieldy English spelling system. How successful have they been?

Not very. Yes, English does have one of the most complex system and rules for spelling. But once you’ve learned it, who wants to learn a new system – even if it’s simple to learn? And what about backwards compatibility – why obsolete all previously published books?

We wanted to steer clear of technology solutions that require users to actively learn a new system. Historically, no good solution has been available for applying this science to everyday reading materials.

Until now.

Asymmetrica leverages new technology to bring advances in reading science to massive audiences. Several recent advances makes this technological feasible, including improvements in: (1) web typography, (2) web and ebook distribution, (3) and mobile display hardware. Incombination, these advances now make it possible to represent word spacing in a way that augments comprehension of a language’s intrinsic pseudosyntactic structure.

But what is pseudosyntax? Pseudosyntax is an early stage of comprehension where your brain makes quick, rough estimates of the syntax based on statistical properties of the language. Later in comprehension, your brain periodically revises this guesstimate and tries to integrate it into a true syntax, a slower, more robust representation that handles exceptions to the guesstimates.

Asymmetrica’s novel approach is to directly compute the pseudosyntactic structure of a language and apply the measured structure subtly, but visibly, to the spaces. We do this seamlessly and in real time to improve everyday reading. Just as punctuation and word spacing have improved reading and made writing accessible to the masses, Asymmetrica’s spacing (Asym Spacing) takes the next significant step in improving everyone’s reading experience.

What may be a surprising statistic is that 43% of Americans have low literacy and have difficulty with moderately challenging literacy activities. Reading ability can’t be taken for granted, and our success as readers can’t be judged by a simple pass or fail. Our lives in the information age are complicated, distracting, and tiring with constant demands to read and process more and more information. Those fortunate to be above average in reading ability may not be performing at their best in today’s highly-distractible, always-connected environment.

Everyone can benefit from the reading improvements Asym Spacing delivers. Even if you think you’re already a good reader, consider the following scenarios in which phrase-­based formatting has demonstrated improvements to reading performance:

  • Students young and old who want to improve their learning performance, either for their primary language or one or more secondary languages;
  • Below average readers (Lake Wobegon children excepted);
  • Busy professionals who read every day in a distracting environment;
  • Readers who find that they often read while they’re tired, and want to maintain and improve their reading performance even under poor conditions;
  • Anyone who feels overwhelmed by today’s information overload and wants to improve their experience.

Whether you read news articles, journals, books, or even your Facebook feed, adding Asym Spacing can improve your experience.

Today, Asymmetrica Labs is launching the Asym Browser Extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari for pages in English. In the background, the Asym extension will dynamically apply our language models to the contents of your web pages. After your pages load, our spacing will quickly “snap” into place. We never change the text content, we just augment it with better word spacing.

We’re pleased to provide this benefit to everyone and, in our initial release phase, the extension will be free. Support for Spanish and other languages are in the pipeline.

Content creators and distributors can benefit as well. Asymmetrica offers testing plans for creators to format their content using our secure APIs. Run A/B tests between the original content and Asym Spacing, and find out how much Asym Spacing can improve your content for your readers – we only benefit if you do. Delivering your content with Asym Spacing to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people will improve your users’ experience and your bottom line.

Keep an eye out for our future developments, and enjoy your reading!

This entire post was formatted using this technology. Did Asym Spacing improve your reading experience?

Let us know what you think on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn (@AsymmetricaLabs) or in the comments below.

[1]    North, A. J., & Jenkins, L. B. (1951). Reading speed and comprehension as a function of typography. Journal of Applied Psychology.