Search Visualizer and dyslexia: Open question

 The Search Visualizer produces miniature images of documents, and shows the location of your chosen key words within each document using highlighting. You can use it for online search, and for looking at specific documents.

 We think that a lot of people with dyslexia will find the Search Visualizer easy to use, because it’s based on visual patterns, rather than words, and because it’s good at handling variant spellings with its synonym feature. However, there are probably issues that we’ve missed, and we’d like to find out what those issues are.

 Here’s an example of how the Search Visualizer works. It’s an online search looking for a quiet beach in Wales. However, all three of the keywords quiet beach Wales are likely to cause problems for people with dyslexia. Should it be quiet or quite, beach or beech, Wales or whales? With Search Visualizer, you simply tell the software to treat quiet and quite as synonyms by entering them next to each other in the search bar, separated by a comma, without spaces between the synonyms and the comma. You can treat several words as synonyms of each other if you want; you’re not restricted to two.

Search for Quiet Beach Wales using Search Visualizer

The image shows the first five records from an Internet search using Search Visualizer, with each set of keywords indicated in colour highlighter. (We’ve chosen the colours so they can be distinguished by people with colour blindness; you can also choose the size of the squares in the display.)

 The first record mentions all three words, but doesn’t mention the words quiet and beach near each other. The second record doesn’t mention quiet at all. The third record mentions all three words, but doesn’t mention the words quiet and beach near each other. The fourth record only mentions quiet once. The fifth record contains several mentions of the words quiet and beach near each other, so it’s likely to be relevant.

 The screenshot above is a bit cramped, because we’ve had to shrink it to fit into the blog format. Here’s a more detailed image of the fifth record, so you can see the distribution of the keywords more clearly. The first half of the record is mainly about Wales, and it’s only in the second half that there are mentions of quiet and beaches.

The fifth record in more detail

If you want to examine a record in more detail, you can click on the image of the record to bring up an interactive image. You can then mouse over the keywords, and see the surrounding text. This feature is particularly useful when you want to check something within a long document, since you can go straight to the bit that interests you without having to open the whole document. Here’s an example.

You can hover over a word to see the text beneath for checking relevance

The record is quite long; there’s a green square near the end, followed almost immediately by a red square, so this part of the record looks potentially relevant. If we hover over the green square, then we see a text box which contains the text surrounding that square.

The text box shows that the text surrounding the green keyword at the bottom right of the zoom box is “… Sker Beach – a quiet and normally deserted beach…”

 There’s more about the Search Visualizer in the other articles on this blog, and on the Search Visualizer site itself:

 We think that the Search Visualizer should be useful to people with dyslexia, because it works with patterns rather than words, and because it handles variant spellings well.

However, we also suspect that some people with dyslexia will find the patterns just as confusing as text.

 We’d like to know what the answers are. What are the strengths and limitations of the Search Visualizer for people with dyslexia, or with other issues relating to reading?

 Any thoughts or experiences would be welcome.

 Gordon Rugg


About searchvisualizer

We welcome debate and disagreement, but not abuse, trolling or thread derailment. We reserve the time-honoured right of blog owners and moderators to be arbitrary, capricious and autocratic in our wielding of the ban hammer. Gordon Rugg is a former timberyard worker, archaeologist and English lecturer who ended up in computer science via psychology. He’s the same Gordon Rugg who did the Voynich Manuscript work, and the books with Marian Petre about research. He’s co-inventor of the Search Visualizer.
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2 Responses to Search Visualizer and dyslexia: Open question

  1. I’ve found search visualizer really useful at the point where most search engines stop being useful; when searches for connections between individuals or for common combinations of keywords generate page after page of hits that are not what I want.

    Given the kinds of errors that dyslexic people make, it would be useful if SV could search for homophones and substitute correct spellings for common spelling errors or phonetically spelled words. Would that be possible?

    • That’s possible. We’d probably prefer to add the other spellings as synonyms, rather than try automatic substitutions – in a lot of cases like “beach” and “beech” it would be difficult to know what the intended word should be.

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