Using Summarize on Mac OSX to Read Faster

09/29/09 Joe

summarize service on osxI’ve recently started using the Summarize Service built into OSX a lot. It’s been there for a long time, but it just never occurred to me how useful it could be.

With the new shortcuts preference pane in Snow Leopard, Summarize popped back onto my radar. I re-added it to my preferred services list by checking the box, then I additionally assigned it a keyboard shortcut.

To use the service, first highlight some text in whatever app you’re in, then hit the key command- or visit the services menu and choose “summarize”.

Once activated, you’ll see a window like this:
Screen shot 2009-09-21 at 1.25.31 PM

The slider lets you truncate as much of the text as you like, getting it down to a much more scannable size. Like speed reading SummaryService is sucking out all the redundant words, transitions, and filler that make text more readable, but less dense.

What you end up with in most cases is a tight little nugget of information that captures the spirit of the source text with a sort of creepy accuracy.

Here’s an example email followed by it’s summarized counterpart.

“Hello, I just wanted to let you know that I think your Jumpchart tool has a lot of potential but it isn’t quite there for me yet. I am a marketing consultant and I work occasionally with clients who want websites. I need something that lets them specify what they are looking for before going all the way to development.”
“The main thing I would like to see is a little more layout control so I can position things on the page. Just boxes would be good enough. My other comment is that your $5 price is reasonable but doesn’t give me enough users while the $25 is way too much for me as I perhaps only do these things 4 or 5 times a year.”
“I look forward to your next release. Do you have any information on the things you are working on?”

The above weigh in at 145 words… Here’s the shorter one.

“I just wanted to let you know that I think your Jumpchart tool has a lot of potential but it isn’t quite there for me yet.”
“...The main thing I would like to see is a little more layout control so I can position things on the page. ... My other comment is that your $5 price is reasonable but doesn’t give me enough users while the $25 is way too much for me as I perhaps only do these things 4 or 5 times a year.”

Down to 87… Not bad. Here’s what happens when you crunch it all the way.

“My other comment is that your $5 price is reasonable but doesn’t give me enough users while the $25 is way too much for me as I perhaps only do these things 4 or 5 times a year.”

Only 38! Although this version isn’t quite as accurate in conveying the whole email- it does do a pretty good job of communicating the spirit. ;-)

The SummarizeService is even better for determining what to read out of the many blog articles trying for your attention. Here’s an example of a recent article:

Original article: http://kottke.org/09/09/your-company-theres-an-app-for-that

“But the real problem for other device manufacturers is that all of these iPhone features — particularly the always-on internet connectivity; the email, HTTP, and SMS capabilities; and the GPS/location features — can work in concert with each other to actually make better versions of the devices listed above. Like a GPS that automatically takes photos of where you are and posts them to a Flickr gallery or a video camera that’ll email videos to your mom or a portable gaming machine with access to thousands of free games over your mobile’s phone network.”
“...The internet was pretty obviously in competition with a few obvious industries at that point — like meatspace book stores — but caught (and is still catching) others off guard: cable TV, movie companies, music companies, FedEx/USPS/UPS, movie theaters, desktop software makers, book publishers, magazine publishers, shoe/apparel stores, newspaper publishers, video game console makers, libraries, grocery stores, real estate agents, etc. etc….basically any organization offering entertainment or information.”

1413 words down to 162, and I would argue that the spirit of the article is still there. It’s always a good idea to read the entire article when Kottke’s writing it, but you get the idea.

The Summarize Service can be a really great way to cut through BS, check if you really want to read an article, or get to the heart of bulk info… Wonder if it would help me finally get through War & Peace…

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  2. I can’t help but laugh when I read them. All I can do was nod in agreement! Hahaha.

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