6 Comments

Summary:

There are a few really handy features in OS X that get very little attention – perhaps because they don’t have a snazzy GUI, or maybe it’s because they only appeal to certain users. Whatever the case, Summarize (found in the menubar under the Application menu) is one of those handy features that gets little attention, but delivers big by helping you get to the point.

summarize-service-icon

There are a few really handy features in OS X that get very little attention — perhaps because they don’t have a snazzy GUI, or maybe it’s because they only appeal to certain users. Whatever the case, Summarize (found in the menubar under the Application menu) is one of those handy features that gets little attention, but delivers big by helping you get to the point.

Think of Summarize as OS X’s way of creating a CliffsNotes version of whatever text you want to read, but don’t have the time to do so. It simply shortens your text into smaller, more readable chunks.

For example, let’s say you really wanted to read Charles’ Mystery of the White MacBook Upgrade Unravelled article here on TheAppleBlog, but just don’t have the time to spare. The article, as it appears on TheAppleBlog, is approximately 565 words. I realize that’s not too terribly long, but hang with me here.

summarize_menu

In a Services-aware application such as Safari, Pages, TextEdit, Mail, etc., select the text you want to shorten. Next, visit the Application menu, in this case Safari, in the menubar. Scroll down to Services, and select Summarize. A resizable window will pop up with the summarized text in it.

OS X's Summarize Service feature

OS X's Summarize Service feature

The Summarize service offers a slider which allows you to customize how much of the original text OS X tosses out. I’ve found that the 30-50 percent range is a good amount to use. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell exactly what percentage the slider is set at. In my test, the original 565-word article was summarized down to about 350 words. Even when lowering the percentage down into the 25-30 percent range, the gist of the article was still relatively clear — even though most of the details were tossed out.

The two radio buttons in the Summarize window determine how OS X summarizes the text. From what I can tell, using Sentences is the way to go. The Paragraph method appears to simply toss out entire paragraphs in random order.

Now if you don’t feel like using Summarize saves you enough time by itself, you can further your efforts by selecting the text in the Summarize window and go back up to the Application menu and choose Services → Speech → Start Speaking Text. OS X will read the summarized text to you in the default voice set in your System preferences.

Summarize is just one of the many Services Apple built into OS X. If you take a look, you may even notice some of your favorite applications add their own Services as well. And if you happen to be using an application that can’t take advantage of Services, such as Firefox, you can always copy and paste the text into TextEdit and go from there.

  1. Thats actually really handy, and as an avid mac user I’m surprised I’ve never pondered the use or need for something like that. Good tip!

    Share
  2. That’s awesome. I’ve been an OS X user for years and I never knew that. I’m going to have to give the Services Menu a closer look. I usually don’t give it much attention, and by doing so, I think I’ve missed out on a few gems.

    Share
  3. How does it know what to summarize?

    Share
  4. @Phil:
    Perhaps Steve Jobs has a little “Mini-Me” inside your computer – he decides what’s important and what’s not. ;)

    Outside that scenario, I suspect it just looks for key words, adjectives, etc. to toss out vs. keep. I really don’t know.

    Share
  5. @3: A little gnome in Mac OS X reads over the text and dictates a second one which passages are relevant …

    Share
  6. James, Kapeka,

    You’re both wrong. I clearly see my old English teacher’s handiwork in all this. :-)

    Seriously, if you want a good test, open something you’ve written yourself (i.e., something you know well). Make sure it’s 800 words or so. Now start playing with Summarize to determine the point at which you’d rather die than have someone read THAT and think it came from you. That’ll help you get a feel for allowable “thresholds”.

    Also, don’t use it for articles with a lot of quotes. It doesn’t distinguish between them so you won’t know if your reading someone else’s words or the author’s.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post