Short form, long form, there's a time and a place for reading all kinds of articles but wouldn't it be nice if you could have some very long things made very short, automatically, and still get the gist of them? Such is the promise of Trimit, a London-built iPhone app described as "an automatic text summarizer and editor for iOS."
This 99 cent app can take copied text or URLs (like links I've favorited on Twitter, for example) and apply an algorithm that shortens bodies of text thousands of characters long down to one thousand, five hundred or 140 characters automatically. How well does it work? It works well enough for me to appreciate it. Check out the demo video below.
"The algorithm finds the sentences in the passage of text that are most integral to the passage's meanings," says Trimit's Nick D'Aloisio. "We're utilizing keywords that are specific to the text, the appearance of adjectives and modifiers, where sentences are in the passage, use of conjunctions or contradictions, superlatives and dates, proper nouns, facts and figures, place and time adverbials, the syntax of the sentence (e.g if has list format) etc."
Machines Plus Text
We live in a post-scarcity media era where the most precious resources are time and attention.
Just as we wrote that there is more text and multimedia being created today than human labor can transform to meet the demand for video consumption (thus leading to the creation of automated platforms like Qwiki), so too is there more text content available than there is time and attention for readers to keep up with it. Apps like Trimit can help solve that problem.
The explosion of human and machine generated data, information and knowledge becoming available is fast overwhelming the limits of the human brain. Tools that can help us scale our productive and consumptive behaviors, meaningfully and effectively, could well become widely desired technologies in the near-term future.
The end result seems good to me most of the time. I got the gist of Danny Sullivan's long post about the new Google Analytics interface delivered to me in 25% the time it would have taken to read the whole article, thanks to this app. ReadWriteWeb's Klint Finley thought Trimit did a poor job summarizing one of his articles but I thought the summary was just fine. I've been going through my Twitter Favorites, grabbing URLs, popping them into Trimit and loving it.
It's not as good as some people could do at summarizing the text, but it's much better than most people (humans) could do. And most of the people who could do a better job than the algorithm Trimit has built aren't available to me at a moment's notice.
This kind of technology could of course be applied in lots of different places and there are no doubt many different companies building things like this. Making it relatively easy to use on my phone and selling it for 99 cents is very nice, though.
D'Aloisio says the company will release Mac and iPad apps in the next two weeks, a web interface and bookmarklet in a few months.
Imagine something like this being built into Instapaper and fed automatically: please store offline everything I favorite on Twitter, all the most retweeted articles among my friends or on some other site, then create 500 word summaries of the articles and let me choose which ones I want to drill down into the full text of.
That sounds great, but Trimit is pretty cool already just as it is.
Let's test this baby out. Trimit says the above article is 2922 characters long. Cut down to just over 500, Trimit's summary reads as follows. What do you think?
Short form, long form, there's a time and a place for reading all kinds of articles but wouldn't it be nice if you could have some very long things made very short, automatically, and still get the gist of them. And most of the people who could do a better job than the algorithm Trimit has built aren't available to me at a moment's notice. It's not as good as some people could do at summarizing the text, but it's much better than most people (humans) could do. That sounds great, but Trimit is pretty cool already just as it is.
That looks like a succinct but accurate summary of the above review to me.