Gritz: An Open Source Speed Reading Tool

Here’s a hack to help you increase your reading speed. Gritz is an open source text file reader, which reduces the need to look around the screen. Words pop up one at a time, but at a configurable pace.

[Peter Feuerer] got the idea for Gritz from Spritz, a commercial product for speed reading. The creators of Spritz took three years to develop their software, and recently released a demo. They claim people can read at 1000 WPM using this technology. Spritz is taking applications for access to their APIs, which will allow developers to integrate the software into their own applications. However, a fully open source version with no restrictions would be even better.

Using Gritz, [Peter] claims to have read a book with a 75% improvement in his reading speed. He admits it’s not perfect, and there’s still much development to do. Gritz is written in Perl, uses Gtk2 for its GUI, and comes with instructions for running on Linux, OS X, and Windows. It’s released under the GPL, so you can clone the Github repo and start playing around with accelerated reading.

43 thoughts on “Gritz: An Open Source Speed Reading Tool

  1. The main problem I see with reading this way is how to account for interruptions. I tried out the Spritz demo, and had to look away once while it was running. It’s quite easy to miss a lot of words if you get distracted.

    Though I do like that this is closer to the “scrolling reader” mentioned in R.A.Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”. All they need to do now is integrate eye-tracking so that it will automatically pause if you look away.

  2. This is why I laught at the startup „scene”.

    All the hype, the marketing bullshit, the ™’s, ridiculous buzzwords and private API signups – just for some technology that got implemented by a single Perl hacker in a couple of afternoons.

    1. It’s just skimming anyway.

      How long has it been since the last time? The 70s? 80s?

      All you need is some software to leave out the boring words, think tag clouds. So “The very old grey cat slowly sat on the round striped mat’ condenses down to:

      cat sat mat.

      Keep the nouns & verbs, drop the rest. Twelve words down to three, 400% faster!

      Where’s my venture capital, I’ll even throw in some bollocks about words shapes or only looking at the top half of each line.

      1. It’s skimming.

        has it been time? 70’s? 80’s?

        you need software leave out words, think tag clouds. “cat sat mat’ condenses:

        cat sat mat.

        Keep nounds verbs drop rest. Twelve words down three, 400% faster!

        Where’s my capital, I’ll throw bollocks words shapes looking top half line


        1. pushed too far it may be just skimming, but tools like this can actually help you train yourself to read faster.

          And reading faster does not have to translate into less retention and comprehension, just the opposite.

          What you should be doing with tools like this is training your mental “muscle memory” so that the act of reading ends up taking less of your attention. This not only speeds up your reading, it also lets you concentrate more on the content rather than the mechanics of reading.

          This is similar to typing. Yes, there are people who two-finger type rapidly, but those who actually learn to touch-type end up not only being faster, but also more accurate, and since they spend less of their attention to the mechanics of getting the text into the computer, they also end up writing better as well.

          1. I’d love to do it for typing and reading, but I’m not sure what tools to use or techniques to adopt.

            I never learned to read quickly, because I could always pick up everything at school/uni from conversation. If I understood the theory I didn’t need the books, if I didn’t then I asked questions. Same goes for typing, I’m a software engineer but I don’t need to type quickly to code well, so never learnt to touch type. I can probably type as quickly/well as a slow touch typer and it is second nature, but I would like some of the speed/efficiency improvements!

      2. it may be important to know which cat, and which rug.
        (think instruction manuals, tech manuals, legal documents, etc)
        some of those finer points can be very important.
        otherwise you can just have a synopsis created. “animal farm = rebel animals become the communists that they hated”

        1. There was only one cat, so I guess that makes the point that comprehension matter more than speed, and since even the speed reader admit that comprehension drops the faster you go – what’s the point?

          Reading and not getting it is one thing, but getting it completely wrong is another.

          Old (~1987-ish) article:

          The reason you skim is because most people can’t write – they just waffle on endlessly. Often (eg patents and academia), this is done deliberately to make comprehension more difficult. This is aped by the general public “because that’s how smart people write”.

          Compare: Our study on video games produced the result that they did not increase violent behavior (padded out to 3 paragraphs…)

          …with: Our study concluded violent behavior was unchanged by video games.

          As @Ren says, beware the ‘not’.

          You skim to reduce the waffle, and wind up getting it wrong because comprehension isn’t the aim.

          New study finds video games increase violent behavior!!

          1. If you think speed == reduced comprehension, then you need to go back to sounding out each word the way you did in first grade. That is good and slow, and by your definition, anything that spead up your reading speed since has cost you comprehension.

            Yes, if you push yourself to the ragged edge of your speed, your comprehension will suffer, but like any other excercise, the point where you hit that ragged edge is going to keep retreating in front of you as you train.

            It’s like saying that you should never try to ride a bicycle fast, because when you are riding as fast as you possibly can, you are running out of oxygen, and your judgement suffers, so you are less safe. But the reality is that as you train more, you can ride at faster speeds while putting out the same percentage of your max effort, so you can ride faster than someone who hasn’t trained and be perfectly safe (and een comfortable) at speeds that would have someone else gasping for breath and getting tunnel vision.

            But this requires that you train properly

            good speed reading isn’t something that you will learn with individual words being flashed at you quickly,

            Good speed reading taining includes increasing your vocabulary so you understand what all the words you run across mean (and don’t have to infer due to the context)

            It requires that you take quizes on what you read so that you really are paying attention and not just skimming.

            It also requires that you read blocks of text, ideally narrow text, so that you train your brain to read phrases and sentences at once, just like you had to train your brain to read words at once rather than a letter at a time.

            When I first ran into speed reading training back in fourth grade (late 1970s), they had the articles for you to read on cardstock that you fed into machines that scrolled it past a window at a given speed.

            With computer support, adjustable fonts, and widths let you tailor things very nicely to your capabilities.

            Initially you want to have a very narrow column with a tight vertical window. As your speed increases, you will be able to widen the window and let it be taller, but still be able to ‘see’ everything in the window in a single glance as it scrolls by.

            good spead readers don’t have their eyes start at the beginning of a line and go to the end of the line, then back to the beginning of the next line. If the text is the ideal width, their eyes trace a line down the middle of the column, but they still see everything. (this is one reson why the current fad of widescreen monitors is so bad, lines tend to get _very_ long, multiple columns are far better, but with limited vertical space, it doesn’t work well. this is why I setup monitors rotated when I can)

            for most people, there is a barrier somewhere around 200 words/min that is hard to get past, but with training, they can get up to 300-400 words/min reading speed, and improve their retention and comprehension at the same time.

            thanks to my early training (and the fact that I was a bookaholic), when I ran into speed reading training a second time (at a community college), I went into the class at around 400 words/min, and at the end of the semester, I was reading ~1200 words/min when i pushed myself with absolute concentration, while still scoring very well on the comprehension tests on the articles.

            When reading for fun, I tend to go at a pace of about 1-2 paperback pages/min (between 50 and 100 pages/hour depending on how I’m feeling), and the great thing is that at these speeds, I’m not really aware of the paper or the words, It’s like watching a movie in my head, I’m visualizing the story and enjoying it.

            It’s also not always true that you have to slow down for technical subjects, it depends on how familiar you are with the topics and with the vocabulary of the papers. On topics that I am very familar with, i can go at about the same speed as reading for fun.

            On the other hand, if I’m reading something I’m not familar with, be it technical, or even just a genre that I’m not extremely comfortable in, my speed will drop a bit.

            So to summarize, speed reading is pattern recognition, both of individual words (the vocabulary training) and of phrases. properly done this doesn’t make you insensitive to nuances, it makes you more sensitive, because the pattern doesn’t match. This also tends to make it easier to notice misspelled words, again, the pattern doesn’t match, even if you have trouble figuring out the correct spelling, you will know _something_ is wrong)

            David Lang

          2. I agree that people who are reading as fast as they possibly can will have their comprehension drop

            I don’t care if that;s 100 words/min or 1000 words/min

            but someone who can read 1000 words/min who is reading at 300 words/min is going to have much better comprehension than someone who tops out at 300 words/min who is reading at 200 words/min, even though they are still getting through the text faster

          3. Hey look, a non-tl;dr comment, and the summary is: “Slower reading increases comprehension.”

            Who’da thunk, eh?

            Lol, that’s a mighty fine recommendation, not.

            Interesting that no-one bothers to test these claims after “It’s basically bollocks” last time around. (Actually, not that interesting.)

          4. No, it’s not “slower reading increases comprehension”, it’s “past a given speed (different for every reader, and trainable to higher speeds), reading faster will decrease comprehension”

            this isn’t the same statement.

            it’s not a linear relationship, it’s (at best) a flat line that then turns into a curve down. Reading too slowly can decrease comprehension as well.

            and the point where comprehension starts to drop can be pushed out with training

            So I consider speed reading training very worthwhile (along with touch-typing training)

          5. Looks like speed reading increases confirmation bias as well.

            Put it this way, if you read something and missed the point, how would you know?

            The people in the StraightDope article read two different texts mashed together, and were convinced they understood it perfectly.

      3. Reminds me of audio compression. You’ll likely catch some heat from the fidelity “heads” . In that you lose the style of the message in that; not reading between the lines. A certain, “I don’t know what ?”. The french say it so much better. Yes, to be or not to be indeed. Haha!

  3. The main problem I had with Speed Reading, especially higher than 300wpm, is I’d miss the occasional “not” or other small ordinary word that would change the context of what I’d read.

  4. The software certainly could use a bit of love and sadly i’m not a perl guy so I can’t just jump in. There is a whole bunch of tiny improvements like a scroll to jump to certain areas easily or repeat blocks, background/foreground colors, etc.

    When I tried spritz then someone else pointed me to which is a similar concept but some of the tiny differences like highlighting specific letters and the alignment really do make a difference.

    I don’t really see the software as a replacement for traditional reading but more of a supplement to get a overview of something then you can later go over certain parts in more detail.

    It’s a great idea for a cellphone though.

  5. Good idea. I don’t understand why spritz didn’t do an open api. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot and asking for competitors.

    I hope gritz targets android, IMHO this type of app has much more appeal on small screens.

    I wonder why Perl was chosen?

  6. What’s the point ? The actual reading part is usually not the bottleneck of the information transfer. You still need time to understand the material, or to memorize it properly.

  7. As a natural speed reader the issue isn’t getting the info to your head usually. It’s how it sticks. Getting older and fuzzy headed sometimes I can blast through an article And occasionally have no idea what I read. I can try and read slower but it’s natural instinct now.. show me a comprehension hack and I’m in

  8. the width of the column/page actually relates to comprehension as well. (it’s part of why newspaper columns are the width they are) you don’t necessarily “read” every word as you read, just as you don’t read every single letter to spell out every word. your brain can learn to read an entire line at once, greatly speeding up comprehension (not just skimming) i’d be curious as to how that could be related to this.

  9. It seems to me that the speed reading applications of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation are missing the best use of the technology. I am waiting for someone to implement this as the standard reading interface for small screens: smartphones, bluetooth watches, google glass, heads-up displays, and the like. Why waste space on a screen of text when you can only focus on a short line of words at a time?

    For reading (not speed reading) novels, I like the dictator rsvp software:
    I just wish it could run on python for android.

  10. I’m not able to run it under OS X. Way too complicated for me … Don’t know where and how to put this:

    Add X11 Package Config Path to bashrc
    • add: export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=$PKG_CONFIG_PATH:/opt/X11/lib/pkgconfig

    1. same here, actually encounters an error before that, at: brew install glib pango gtk+ //apparently don’t have xqsomethingsomething… no idea what it is. i’m so bad at understanding programming lingo that i got scared and deleted home-brew… couldn’t there be a java package to just open and run, or a web version where you paste all the text you want and just press play?

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