On my daily visit to Hacker News one of the top news items has caught my eye: Learn to read a binary font by reading a story, and this led me to Dotsies.com.

What is Dotsies and how does it work?

According to their homepage, Dotsies is a binary font, that uses dots (or squares) drawn in a specific order to represent letters. So you should be able to cram more information into the same space and use your screen real estate more efficiently. It makes sense, as all letters are of the same width (2-4 pixels wide it seems), thus taking up less horizontal space, but how practical and easy to learn is it?

A letter is built as a 1x5 block structure where each cell is binary, that is it can be full or empty. The font covers just 26 letters, thus encoding with 2^5=32 encoding capacity is sufficient to encode the alphabet. Other characters are not encoded and words are separated by spaces.

How to learn to read Dotsies?

Actually learning to read Dotsies is not as hard as it seems. The learning curve is pretty shallow, as the learning material is designed to introduce symbols gradually, so the transition to reading binary blocks is smooth. The author suggests spending some time learning letters (for 20 minutes) and reading simple words (10 minutes). The learning platform (memorize.com) used for learning letters and words is surprisingly effective and is using flash cards, matching and multiple choice techniques to help you learn and remember.

After you finish getting familiar with the font, you can head back to Dotsies.com, scroll down to the training text and get going! You should notice that even from the start you’ll be reading letters, that are split into the same binary blocks (see the image), so you’re getting used to reading in blocks from the start. Of course regular letters are gradually replaced by plain blocks as you go.

First impressions

Personally, it wasn’t too hard, but at the same time it wasn’t easy. Memorizing the letters (even putting the information to the short-term memory) took about 30 minutes and learning to read words took about 15 minutes. Then I moved onto reading the training text, which took me a whopping 2 hours to finish.

Once you start reading the training text, you may think it’s not that bad, but as more and more letters are replaced, it starts to confuse you, thus I recommend to have the alphabet nearby to check which letter you’re looking at.

Closing thoughts

Although it was fun, interesting and beneficial (mental exercise is important) to learn reading Dotsies, at least at first I can’t say that it is practical. You certainly won’t be reading 500 wpm any time soon, I think you’d be lucky if you’d reach 50 wpm in first few days of using it. But I agree with the author that it is not yet clear if it is faster reading that way, because it’s not apparent until many people spend some time getting used to it and share their experiences. He also suggests remembering how you learned reading in the first place.

I have mixed feelings about learning to read Dotsies. It was fun and interesting, but that’s it, just a fun experiment. But if you found this interesting, go to Dotsies.com to find out more about it.