Flinks—Speed-Reading Web Browser

I'm always on the lookout for original projects, and this particular application really took me by surprise. According to its Web site, “Flinks is a text-mode flashing word Web browser. It is intended for speed reading and/or skimming Web pages and text.”

Martin Bays, the author of the project, was first inspired by a mobile-phone program that rapidly flashed words one after the other on screen, which promised reading speeds of 600–700 words per minute (WPM) after a few days of practice. Intrigued by the idea and put off by the thought that such a technically simple program cost $20, Martin set about making Flinks.

Although I can't really demonstrate the effect on printed page, Flinks rapidly flashes individual words of a Web page one after the other in rapid succession to help train your brain for speed reading.


Getting Flinks up and running is very easy, because no real installation is necessary, and its dependencies are very minimal. All you need is Python, version 2.4 or later, along with a working version of Lynx.

Download the latest tarball from the Web site, extract it, and open a terminal in the new folder. At the command line, enter:

$ ./flinks


Given the simple design, Flinks is best used with Web sites consisting of mostly text and easy navigation. A good example of this is Wikipedia, and as a result, Martin has chosen it as the default Web site upon opening Flinks.

To get going, press the g key to enter a URL (you don't have to enter in the “http://”, something like “metallica.com” is fine). Once the page loads for a few seconds in the browser, press the spacebar to “play” the Web page. Pressing the spacebar again will pause the browser. At this point, a great deal of words starts flying at you, one after the other at a rapid speed. The effect is kind of startling at first but pretty darn cool.

Flinks is set to a default speed of 450 WPM, but if you want to speed up or slow down the word rate, the up and down arrow keys adjust it accordingly. The left and right arrow keys allow you to skip through sentences, and the / or ? keys let you search forward or backward within the text. Other basic navigation includes b to go back, u to go “unback” and q to quit the program.

In the end, this program is a great trip. Put on some Speed Garage (or conversely some Stoner/Prog rock for a time-warp effect) in the background while you try reading at 700 WPM, and you'll be in hyperspeed geek heaven. And, to quote Martin himself:

"But perhaps the most important plus of using Flinks is that having this almost direct jack from the computer to my brain makes me feel like I'm living in the future. And the future is in text mode, just as I always dreamed it would be."

Sounds good to me.


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