Mark Twain once wrote ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.’ We’ve all gotten overly long emails, or had to read 20 page reports that should have been five pages at the most, because people find it hard or too time-consuming to boil things down: to write concisely. So it would be great to have a tool that could summarize for us.
In principle that’s what the new Clipped technology is supposed to be able to do, but it doesn’t work as advertised, at least not with any consistency.
The technology is presented in two basic forms: one version of Clipped is an app for iPhone and Android which summarizes news stories, and has an integrated search with summaries of results. This tool actually works well enough to possibly use. But it is the second that would be most useful: it’s a browser-based tool where Clipped attempts to build a summary of the webpage currently open.
Here’s an example involving a longish article about Adam Posen, an American who works as a member of the Bank Of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. Needless to say, the most important information does not make it into the summary (the fact that austerity has not sped up the economy there, and would likely not do so here, either).
It may be that Clipped is really only capable of summarizing very specific sorts of inputs, like product announcements. I pointed the tool at a C/Net piece on Twitter that had five predictions in it, trying to see if Clipped could find them. Nope. It didn’t find a single one:
Let’s imagine that Clipped will someday work, although they are not off to a great start. I could see a number of uses in the business setting. I’d certainly like to see a summary of emails before reading them in their entirety. I could also see great utility in online discussions: for example, summarizing a post and an attached discussion thread from a company’s business social network. It would be a great adjunct to a tool like Disqus: at any time a summary of the thread and the post could be generated by clicking on the ‘summary’ button. And of course, the dream Clipped tool could create a summary based on any document, report, or presentation.
In the hypothetical future, we might go so far as to write a first draft of something, pass it through Clipped, and throw the draft away, sending along the summary.
I bumped into a different sort of summarization tool today, one that does work. It’s the bizarrely named savepublishing bookmarklet, which finds tweetable phrases in the webpage you have open when clicked. For example, here’s that same article about Adam Posner:
Clicking on any of the red lines leads to a Twitter editor dialog opening with the line of text and a URL pointing back to the page. A great time savings, since lines that are too long are grayed out. It’s a small-and-simple tool I will probably use dozens of times per week, saving me time and aggravation each time.