Instant Outline? Topicmarks Summarizes Complex Articles

Ho ho, now here is a COOL tool. A cool SEMANTIC tool. Particularly if you are lazy or reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. MakeUseOf has a thorough review of Topicmarks, a web-based application that automates a summary of key terms and text in electronic form, or a “smart, interactive synopsis” of your electronic documents.

Open a free account, or sign in using Google or Yahoo. Topicmarks invites you to “open” your “personal knowledge space.” Then, upload a document (in a variety of formats, including Word, PDF, html, or plain text) to the Topicmarks site. Or use their bookmarklet to summarize any web page you happen to be visiting. Or email your document to the special email address provided by Topicmarks under the “profile” button.

Topicmarks’ engine then goes to work, and you will be notified by email when the process is complete. Under the button for “text knodes”, you will find your document summaries. Via tabs, you can get the overview, facts, summary, keywords, index, and properties. These tabs offer different ways to digest your information – either by quick facts, general overview, a deeper dive into particular keywords, or an index of all keywords. The information is linked across tabs – click on a keyword in the index and pull up the “facts” associated with that keword in the facts tab.

Your texts are stored forever, and it is currently free, although heavy users might see a cost for the service in the future.  Keep in mind that texts are public by default, and you can share your knodes with Facebook and Twitter, but you can make them private in the settings.

So, you research your topic (or you collect materials sent to you by others). Send them through Topicmarks. Read the synopsis. Check out some key terms. Does it look interesting? Check out the whole article? Does it look like dreck? Move on.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, but it might take a lawyer, to see how Topicmarks might be of value to the legal profession. The fine folk at Topicmarks are mindful of this, including lawyers and paralegals on their list of who might benefit from their service. They also suggest the following uses for their awesome service:

  • Analyzing your own writings
  • Being up-to-date with the latest financial research
  • Building a knowledge base for a graduate thesis
  • Building a knowledge base for a master’s thesis
  • Checking current facts against past press releases
  • Checking doctoral theses
  • Discovering emerging patterns
  • Evaluating student papers quickly
  • Finding back quotes they remember having read somewhere
  • Finding inconsistencies in long reports
  • Getting the gist of subordinates’ presentations
  • Preparing a school project
  • Reading up quickly on industry analyses
  • Researching a first student paper
  • Sifting through annual reports
  • Sifting through legal cases
  • Staying abreast of white papers
  • Storing relevant legal precedents
  • Writing fiction abstracts y analyses
  • Researching a first student paper
  • Sifting through annual reports
  • Sifting through legal cases
  • Staying abreast of white papers
  • Storing relevant legal precedents
  • Writing fiction abstracts

Why do I love this? Well, it’s free (for now), it’s effective, its a serious efficiency tool, it’s web-based with social sharing, it’s research-and-writing-oriented, it’s uber-cool Semantic-powered. A clear winner on all counts. My mind is already coming up with new ways to play with it – I am thinking about finding the most complex securities case I can find in Google Scholar and running it through Topicmarks to see what I get. Check it out and turbo-charge your own electronic research and reading experience!

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The Good, The Bad & The Truncated

Now HERE is a novel concept in information consumption: applying liposuction to your news feeds. Thanks to Techcrunch, I became acquainted this morning with TLDR.it – a web app that shrinks long form news articles and RSS feeds into shorter versions containing only the salient(?) points. You can choose whether your abstract is short, medium, or long, but certainly the return will not be as long as the original article.

The app was built in 48 hours, a testament to the developer Jeremy McAnaly’s need for speed. Indeed, the app bills itself as “a.d.d. approved news reading.”

You can either enter the feed or the URL in search-styled boxes, or you use their bookmarklet to summarize any page you happen to linger on. Then you get a synopsis of the feed or URL, with options to see the short, medium or long versions, as well as the original source in full.

I couldn’t resist – I had to run Advocate’s Studio through Willie Wonka’s Mike TeeVee treatment and see what came out. The TLDR.it algorithm picked up on my second post about getting Studio content  at various web locales. (maybe it thought my top article was already the picture of brevity). If you read the content post, you will see that it was eight or so fairly meaty paragraphs. This is what tldr.it returned:

Visiting the page is cool because I have fitted out the blog with some extra material in the widgets and blog bar – you can get my Mobile App of the Day reviews in the sidebar along with my shares on Lazyfeed and Friendfeed and links to some of my other web profiles via my Retaggr card – I tend to spread my sharing out over many services, so that no one particular place has everything.

The long version contains approximately double the wordage as the short version, picking up pretty much where the short version left off. While this information is contained somewhere in the middle of the post, I cannot really say how the algorithm arrived at the “conclusion” that  this was the “meat”  of the post. Thus, I cannot really say that tldr.it returns the most salient points of the article.

Nonetheless, much like Cliff Notes, some information is better than no information, if for no other reason than giving you the appearance of having actually read the full work. I guess, with TLDR.it, you have to take the good with the bad.