Information overload is a serious problem now that the channels available to us scholars and students, are being multiplied and broadened on a daily basis. Here is a sweeping statement: people seem to have two main strategies in coping with information overload; one is defensive (I don’t have time for that), the other offensive (e.g. finding some way of speeding up consumption).
Speedreading is a conventional coping strategy from the “offensive” class. I am trying to avoid value judgements here. For an informative reflection on scholarship today, check out David Levy’s “Contemplating Scholarship in the Digital Age”, in: RBM (2005). Only recently applications have become available to support people who are trying to accelerate information digestion.
An interesting example is the use of tag clouds. In these visualizations of textual content important, recurring words are made salient in a rectangular graphic, where varying sizes indicate frequency. Whether such visualizations are useful depends on context. Broadly speaking there are two types of use: multi-source tag clouds versus single-source tag clouds. A multi-source tag cloud offers a visualization of tags (words) as found in large numbers of source documents. An example of this is Quintura, which offers an entrance to Google’s massive databases. [On the steve project discussion list there is a threat on the usefulnes of tag clouds. Refer to the April 2006 Archives.]
I would not call Quintura a speedreading helper application. What comes closer to that is a single-source tag cloud building tool called TagCrowd, by Daniel Steinbock. It takes only a minute to make up your mind about what’s in it for you. In two ways you can have your text analyzed: either by copying and pasting it into a textarea on the TagCrowd website, or by sending (an ascii-version of) the text to the server.
Now don’t get nervous. Here is the result of an analysis of the lemma Speed reading from WikiPedia (accessed on 2007/02/19):
More on: http://www.tagcrowd.com/blog/about/