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TL;DR — Faster News (toolong-didntread.com)
287 points by swader on Nov 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

I don't want to step on these guys' PR, but I do have a similar personal project for anybody who is interested, http://newspaper23.com

Initially it's just an aggregator that presents commentary in plain text. I plan on adding a summarizer one day. For a personal project, I've been using it daily for over a year, so I know I find a lot of value in this type of thing.

As sites try to get more sticky, the signal-to-noise ratio decreases. You spend more time reading a lot of trivial articles that a Facebook friend recommended instead of a few articles that you've scanned yourself. I know Google and FB say social search is the cool thing, but in my experience the only thing it does is increase consumption of mediocre shiny stuff. Much better to pre-qualify sources and then control the depth of your dive. For newspaper23, one of the original ideas was a timer for each day. 30 minutes of scanning and the site would refuse to load until the next day.

I'd like to see more of this type of thing -- gearing content consumption to humans instead of site creators and advertisers.

Looks like there are a few of us on HN trying to solve the news consumption problem. My site[1] tries to crowdsource the summaries by encouraging the readers to summarize a story themselves. In the meantime, we create most of the summaries in-house.

Newser[2] tried to do the same thing but gave up and just focused on in-house created summaries.

Regarding the summary process, it's good to see another group manually summarizing posts as opposed to Summly[3] which tries automate the process. For many reasons already stated in another comment[4], I don't think automation will ever work.

Good luck to the guys over at http://toolong-didntread.com and http://newspaper23.com. I hope one of us gets some real traction!

[1] http://skimthat.com [2] http://www.newser.com/ [3] http://summly.com/ [4] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4741855

Edit: Another product that tries to summarize news http://cir.ca/

I'll add my baby to the pot: http://skimfeed.com.

This is actually really nice, well done. Hard to drop the frills for thrills so to speak. This is a much more functional site than most of the similar bootstrappy approaches, despite it looking like it came out of the 90s. It's actually useful, I like.

Awesome site man. I'm learning PHP so that I can make my own personalized news site like that. Can you give a short summary of how you built it? Or what technologies I'd need to use to create my own news aggregator?

That looks really good. I am not familiar with many of the sites on there, but I noticed no way of getting to HN discussions from your site. Do you think some way of reaching the discussion or comments section of some of the feeds would be helpful to others?

Made me think of Jimmyr that I used several years ago... http://www.jimmyr.com/ I really like yours. Time to upgrade, thanks!

I like it! Simple and I can actually see myself using this.

Inspired by AffBuzz?

popurls on courier new?

I really like your site, skimthat.com. However, I think the summaries should be condensed even more. For example, this summary is 203 words:


It could have been summarized down to something like: Rumors are circulating that a suspicious white van was parked in front of the house that blew up.

I would rather it be super short with just the important fact. If it peaks my curiosity, then I'll click to the full article.

I don't know, that's just my opinion.

Thanks for your feedback. I see what you're saying about a shorter summary but I'd consider your sentence more of a tease than a summary.

Our goal is to give the reader a good understanding of the topic while leaving out the unnecessary details and redundant information. The original had 465 words. That means that the Skim That summary cut the story down by over 50% while still giving you a strong overview of the story.

I see. If that's the case, then I think there is room for a "teaser" news site that gives you just a bit more than the headline. If you want more details, you can click on a more detailed summary, or if you want to read the whole thing, then you can click to the full article.

adding http://tldr.it as a generic approach.

Another good example of an automated attempt to summarize the news that'll never work.

Here's why: Let's assume we have the perfect algorithm that knows exactly which sentences to pick for a good summary. You'll still end up with a summary that's horribly out of context and difficult to read.

Try it yourself. Assume your brain is the perfect algorithm and pick the most important sentences for a summary. Then try to read just the sentences that you picked without rewriting it into a coherent paragraph. More than likely, it'll be an out of context confusing block of text.

Algorithms will never solve the summarizing process unless they are teamed up with a rewriting engine that could build coherent paragraphs.

> Another good example of an automated attempt to summarize the news that'll never work.

> Algorithms will never solve the summarizing process unless they are teamed up with a rewriting engine that could build coherent paragraphs.

That doesn't sound like never. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if such AI would created within 50-100 years, ie in my lifetime. I think this comment exposes the common false thought-pattern that if something is not viable in the next quarter, then it'll never happen.

No, you are misreading my statement. Please go back and look for the word "unless". Sentence picking algorithms alone will never solve the problem unless a rewriting engine is added.

Sorry, you are right; I misread the first sentence. I didn't realize that you referred to tldr.io specifically with it.

Probable mistype, you mean tldr.it right ? Just saying that as a cofounder of tldr.io, whose goal is similar to that of SkimThat: provide human written summaries ;)

What steps are you taking to mitigate spam and bias in summaries created by people?

I know if I wrote a summary of a Microsoft Surface article (I have one), it'd be very different from someone who loves it -- or is even an MS employee.

And spam... big issue there.

(disclaimer - I have your plugin and have tried it, summaries seem way too short.)

For anyone working on the summary problem: Chapter 8 of O'Reilly's Mining the Social Web has a great description of how you can use Python NLP libraries to accurately break text into individual sentences, then analyze those sentences to pull out the most important. I don't know how well it works in practice, but their example is amazing.

The Sentence segmenter doesn't work that well, and rooting words doesn't work as advertised. Try Children, Families, Family, and complies.

Here's mine, http://textteaser.com/. It's basically an API that accepts the URL as an input and outputs a JSON result. It's only a preview so expect more to come.

I'm having trouble getting http://m.yahoo.com/w/legobpengine/news/blogs/clinton-white-h... to work.

You should have a few links listed on that page that you know will work well as examples for people to try the service out with.

Btw, how do you feel about my other comments in this thread about algorithms not working well? My basic point is that they will most likely produce paragraphs that are out of context.

>My basic point is that they will most likely produce paragraphs that are out of context.

Disagree - having written a bunch of these gist extractors I have found that the good ones do not produce out of context paragraphs. In fact, that's pretty much the point - to find the salient portion of the content.

My argument is that many times the salient portion is written in such a way that it's continuing a point from a previous part of the article. So, when you remove it from the complete context of the article, the sentence seems like it's out of place even if it has an important detail.

Mine work well with that link. Thank you for your suggestions but the website I created is just a preview. Will work on it though. I'll keep you posted when I made some changes.

They are out of context because they (we) are basically just doing extraction. In which we just extract the most important sentences, arrange them in order, and present it in a paragraph / list. I prefer presenting the top sentences in a list though. In my opinion, presenting it as a paragraph will make an effect that it's out of context rather than in a list.

If the summaries was done through abstraction, like how humans are doing it, it will obviously produce better summaries. But why we are not doing it? I believe abstraction summaries are holy grail of automatic summarization.

you forgot http://tldr.io

Thanks! I didn't know about that site before and it looks like they have many contributors. I considered doing a bookmarklet like they do but I figured that I would need a critical number of people before it could be realistic to use.

In the meantime, I created a list[1] of popular stories from Reddit news sources. Each story links to a special hybrid page that allows you to write a summary on top while you read the story below.

[1] http://skimthat.com/unsummarized

edit: clarification

I read the tldr.io of this TL;DR service first.

Do you mean that you tried the tl;dr bookmarket on Skim That? I just added a summary for Skim That using the bookmarket so you should see it now.

I really like how it uses line by line bullet point fields to help write the summary. I experimented with something like that in the past. It kind of works but it isn't as smooth a read as a paragraph of text but it does make the writing process easier.

You confused me there, but I see now that it was actually me who confused you as I meant to reply to czzarr instead...

It seems that I helped inspire you nonetheless, which is great of course!

As for what makes tldr.io great; it's mostly the Chrome plugin which adds TL;DR icons next to the links on Hacker News.

They still need to work on enticing more users to contribute back though.

When did Hacker News become "Spam my Stuff" news?

Isn't it possible to discuss the merits of the product provided in the opening post without one-line nonsense posts spamming your own thing?


Your site is awesome! I've been looking for a way to read without distractions and without having to enter every single article into instapaper.

What many people underestimate is that summaries have an inherent problem: bias. No two people are ever going to summarize an article the exact same way - much less so when it comes to politics etc. So before I use a site to read summaries, I have to trust the brand (I trust The Economist, for they mostly differentiate between reporting and editorializing) and I will never ever trust an anonymous bunch of people (the "crowdsourcing" summaries-solution) to accurately summarize without bias. I value as-close-to-objective-reporting-as-possible very highly - judgments I can make my own.

Objective reporting, if it ever existed, is a quaint artifact of history as far as I can tell. Even if explicit opinion or analysis is excluded, the mere selection of which facts to include and exclude is subject to bias of the writer/editors. The only way I can see to get the unbiased facts out of news reporting is to consume a variety of sources.

Once again, not to step on TL;DR, but since most commenting here are saying that curation is not scalable or sustainable, I wanted to present it in this way:

Phase 1: The MVP of a news aggregator should be a curated/editorial like traditional media/magazines, etc [1]

Phase 2: The second stage should be to have submissions from your readers (on content that interests them).

Phase 3: The next would be to have a voting mechanism, and then realizing that articles have different relevance in different communities - which is what prismatic and ypander were aiming to solve.

Full Disclosure: I am working on summarizing technology news, and the tagline so far has been "Hacker News on Steroids." Before it gets to that stage, I'm skimming my most favourite feeds from Google Reader. The best mobile wrapper I've found (since I'm targeting mobile as well) has been Feedly, which presents it as more like a magazine. Keep in mind Feedly didn't start out as this 4 years ago.

Another project aiming to solve this problem with a bookmarklet (and has a more appt domain name imo is tldr.io) though I personally haven't used it. Summly is another one, but after using it for a while, I found Feedly much better suited to my reading habits.

I'd love to team up with others who are working on this problem. My MVP is at http://dinopost.com. Drop me a line at aaron at dinopost.

[1] Phases based on Casey Accidental's blog post: Online News is Broken: http://caseyaccidental.com/online-news-is-broken/

hey there, did you know that tldr.io now offers an extension that allows you to read tldrs without leaving the HN frontpage? https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tldr/ohmamcbkcmfal...

full disclosure: i'm one of the cofounders

For what it's worth, the OP's site is much easier to read or skim.

I'm guessing it has to do with column width and coloring.

Newspaper23, I have a very hard time adjusting my eyes to that font/typography combo. I simply can't read the titles fast enough to return to the site. Reddit and HackerNews are easier on the eyes (same with OP's link).

Very nice too. But some advice: the titles are way too big and look unprofessional, and the front page needs summaries. Other than that I like it.

Thanks. I threw it together using the first version of Bootstrap if I recall. I think the titles are actually buttons. Also the UI is buggy. I have to use the back buttons to get back to the main page. Many times it's easier just to reload the site to get to the first page.

But it scales nicely out to a tablet. And a phone. Part of the initial appeal for my writing it was to download all of the daily commentary as json to my tablet. Then I could walk around town and such without having to worry about an internet connection. The idea was -- how much real static text do you consume in a day? Can't be more than 100 or so articles. So why not just download the plain text and consume it at your leisure?

Another feature I wanted was the ability for people peering over my shoulder to NOT be able to tell what I was consuming. Many times at work or on the train I'd have some time to read commentary, and the last thing I wanted to do was load up a page with a branded look and feel. I wanted the plainest amount of pure text possible.

I appreciate the feedback. Although I use it daily, it's not high on my list of priorities. Next up I think I'll double the amount and type of content. Maybe after that I'll go back to the UI for some rework. For me this is more of a personal thing than a business feeler. So even if nobody else in the world likes it, I'm good. :)

I do want to step on their PR. This is like looking at an RSS feed. Try something like TLDRPlugin.com that actually summarizes content, and works with any web page, not just the few RSS feeds that some guy decided to include.

Well, here's mine: http://www.hackerreads.com/

If you haven't seen http://evening-edition.com/ I highly reccomend it. It is bite sized world news published every weekday at 5 pm in a few different locales. The news is all written by a journalist, and they track some of the same stories day to day. It's not trying to solve the same problem as this site, and its not just summarizing articles you could read elsewhere. I've been reading it pretty much every day for a few months; it's great.

Agreed. After their UK & France editions, I am hoping they'll launch an Asian edition too.

As an NLP researcher, this is interesting as a sort of summarization data set.

The thing is though, summarizing news articles is best done by just reading the first paragraph of the article. News articles are intentionally written this way, and it's a very difficult baseline to beat in automatic summarization.

Still nice site though.

No, the first paragraph of a news article is designed to give the reader just enough information to get the gist of the article, but tease the reader into continuing to read along.

On web sites, the goal is to get the user to click the "more" or "details" link to get the whole article and thus display more ads.

The reality is that most of the "good stuff" for a news article could be summarized in a paragraph that would satisfy 90% of the need to read the full article - but that would defeat the business model of most sites/media dispensing news.

I like the idea of this site.

What you're saying may be true of new media sites and investigative / gonzo / entertainment journalism, but old school journalism 101 says the first paragraph should be a summary for hard news stories. In fact, hard news should be written such that you can chop off paragraphs in reverse order and still have a sensible article.

100% agreed - that's what I learned to do in high school journalism class as well. But there's lots of stuff on the web, even that's considered news, that doesn't follow this format. Here's some first sentences from other Times articles:

"The flesh is weak but the spirit of commerce is willing." (op-ed)

"Last weekend, my family and I packed our car full of supplies and drove to a fire station in New Jersey to deliver goods to an area that had been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy." (small business)

"Last April 28, a splendid spring Saturday that fairly begged you to be outdoors, I spent all afternoon in front of my living-room TV, anxiously watching the last day of the annual N.F.L. draft, live from Radio City Music Hall. " (NY Times Magazine)

"The relocation of Albert C. Barnes’s great polyglot art collection to central Philadelphia was opposed by many and dreaded by most." (A&E)

I guess my point is that journalism styles vary even within a publication. Therefore, any automated attempt to simply use the first paragraph as a summary is bound to be wrong a lot of the time. It would however be interesting to use a human-generated summary dataset as the training data for a "buries the lead" classifier. I'll bet you could do it with a bag-of-words feature pretty easily, and that the most important words would be personal pronouns.

You're right, many "news" articles don't follow that traditional format. The difference is that your examples are not the primary news article about an important event. They are either commentary / color on an important event, an opinion piece, or human interest piece about something interesting (but not really "news"-worthy).

Of course, much of what is in the paper is not "hard news" so some sort of automatic summarization could be useful for those pieces.

Militants took their fight with Israel into the heart of the country Wednesday, exploding a bomb on a public transport bus in Tel Aviv. The attack is likely to complicate already tenuous efforts to achieve a cease-fire.


American efforts to help negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in the week-old Gaza rocket battle faced a new obstacle on Wednesday when the first bus bombing in years traumatized Tel Aviv, raising the prospect of a new Israeli retaliation just as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was working to achieve even a brief pause in the fighting.


At least 24 people have been injured in an explosion on a bus in Israel's commercial capital, Tel Aviv, in what police described as a "terrorist attack".


None of these sites teased me into clicking through, they presented their stories in full text. I pay for NYT access, but their paywall is unrelated to your theory of PV corralling. These are all decent, concise treatments of the story.

What does "90% of the need to read the full article" mean to you? It seems like indefinable to me.

You probably already know that, but your "sponsors" page is completely broken on my system, and it blames adblock.



Error message:

Does BuySellAds look broken? Disable your ad blocker, their haphazard default filters sometimes break our site.

I don't care enough about you(yet) to disable adblock. I don't even know what "sponsor" means in context of your site. I was just clicking around.

Also, you probably need it for tracking, but I don't like clicking on http://toolong-didntread.com/sponsorship and being redirected to http://buysellads.com/buy/detail/158594?utm_source=shorturl&...

I browsed around a bit to check it out. tl;dr: I can get the same use out of Google News by customizing sections there and scanning headlines.

Longer comparison with the main competition: Google News also allows me to group sources that are consistently reliable (which appear in an "Editors' Picks" section that I can customize). The Spotlight section of Google News seems to provide much of the same usability as the prototype site submitted here, showing only headlines at a glance, but as another comment here has already said, news stories are written with lede paragraphs to give you the main idea rapidly.

The kind of automated curation and formatting I look for most in a news aggregation site is not curation for short snippets and formatting for good-looking white space, but curation for quality of content and formatting for information density. As I have customized it on my browser, Google News provides that.

I sympathize with anyone who feels too busy making a living to have time to read. But when I can win reading time, I'm glad to read long articles, and I still try to read actual books even in this era of most people doing a lot of their reading online. I appreciate people working on the issue of getting more reading done in less time, and meanwhile hope that the long writings continue to get plenty of attention from thoughtful readers, and plenty of discussion here among the busy participants on Hacker News.

"I sympathize with anyone who feels too busy making a living to have time to read."

Yes, being too busy is one reason for wanting summarized news but it's not the only reason.

Often, news stories are created for search engine consumption, not human consumption. You find long articles full of repetitive information and bloviating. A good summary can cut out everything but the basic facts of the story so you're up to date on the news without having to consume all the fluff.

Of course, liking summarized news doesn't mean you can't take the time to read an in-depth article or a book. In fact, you probably have more time to do that since you saved time with the TLDR version of the news.

Not to mention books which are often stuffed with lots of filler rehashing points, to avoid being the below-hundred pages quick read it should have been.

Would love to see a "top stories from last week" feature. Imagine I'm on vacation, or I've just been too busy to keep up with current events but would like to catch up.

This is nicely done. I'll be giving it a shot as a tab that never closes.

http://hckrnews.com/ (for Hackernews posts)

This is awesome, thank you.

I sometimes use Wikipedia's archive of its front-page "In the news" blurbs to catch up on news I've missed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Current_events

Like this?


It is done for each category. I wish the up would do it for all categories at once, because I don't always have time

Nice. My curmudgeonly response, though, is: "Now all we have to do is put another TL;DR on top of that: a monthly or yearly summary of 'items that actually mattered.'"

It's always interesting to pick up a newspaper from a year ago and see how few items are worth reading anymore, and imagine how many stories I've read and forgotten.

The same might be said for HN, for that matter... what am I doing here again? ;)

I've given a lot of thought to the TL;DR approach to content digestion. It works extremely well, in a vacuum, or on the site it was made popular, reddit. Their, the original poster writes the TL;DR, which is why it works so well. If you write a large post, then immediately after summarize the post into 1-2 sentences, it becomes a very efficient message that still expresses exactly what you wanted to get across. TL;DR is the future, almost to a sad degree. A lot of time it digs deeper than just wanting to filter out the articles you have no interest in reading. But this becomes the only form of digesting news. You begin consuming a lot of news, stories, articles, but you're no longer actually informed on any of the topics, you just end up with a vague idea of what is going on around you. That's far beside the point though.

This is a actually a very nice effort.

The issues I have with growth and actual value, is with how the summaries are generated. Automatic generation is fast and inaccurate, manually curated is slow and very accurate. In a world where people no longer have the time to read newspapers, their not only looking for quick news on the run, they want current news. Something that happened today, everything that happened today. But quick, not the full story, "i'll read that later." Meeting in the middle between fast and slow approaches does not work here. You're too slow, and the headlines in my RSS feed and twitter have already informed me of the news, too fast and your summary becomes a failed attempt to make twitter and RSS better quality. I have no idea how your TL;DR are currently generated. But I would think you'd have an aggregation and be doing some manual curation. To me for this to really work, you'd have to have a large group of people that read the article generating the TL;DR, constantly iterating, until you end up with an extremely efficient 2 sentence summary. Or there needs to be a project that integrates TL;DR on large scale, the publishers, news papers of the world, blogs..They submit these directly.

I think there's still a lot of value in what you're doing. I just don't think it will take off as it is now. Away from the name/marketing/novelty/social aspect not really being there. Twitter, RSS feeds, and sites like http://skimfeed.com/ end up providing me with far more day to day value. If you took this and spoon-fed me the TL;DR via my phone, i'd consider being a repeat visitor a little bit more. But you'd then be competing with a whole 'nother slice of the pie.

Thanks for including the skimfeed link. Didn't know they existed. I am building out something almost exactly like their site but going to expand on it a bit.

Cool. I was just complaining how cluttered and junky Google News has been looking lately. Way too many links, borders, and images. It used to feel so clean compared to the other news sites. This is what I was looking for.

Also, how did you get the summaries? It's like you have some algorithm to re-word the first paragraph of the story.

Why do people put the TL;DR summary at the bottom? If the content is too long, and I didn't read it, then I'm not going to see a summary at the bottom. Abstracts, introductions, executive summaries, etc., go at the top. You don't even have to call it one of those: the goal of good writing is to engage people before they move onwards. I guess that locating it at the bottom is equivalent to adding a conclusion, and I'll grant that some people skim to the conclusion, rather than use the abstract/intro/exec-summary.

Effective news consumption has been a huge problem since Internet got exponentially publishing disease. Unfortunately today writing for some writers and journalists is a matter of mass producing text not informing people.

I don’t think today’s technology can auto-summarize news for us properly. The approach taken by TLDR is the correct one. The news should be summarized by human to be useful.

To crowd source this function we can create groups of like-minded people. Members of each group need to split the job. Such a process will save many souls.

I'm popping a comment in here without reading all the content (I guess there's irony in that, if not disrespect, but I'm due shortly for a dinner party). That said, my comment is that I don't mind the length of articles so much as the circumstance that nobody seems to write in the "traditional", top-down ("inverted pyramid", etc., etc.) "newspaper" style, anymore.

In that style, a summary and broad overview with the most salient points, is presented first. Then the article may delve into further detail. The reader can quickly get an overview and then decide whether and how much further they care to read into the details.

Instead, today everything seems to be written in a "narrative style". Often, the first some paragraphs set the scene -- they're "atmosphere" -- sometimes before the writer even deigns to tell you, the reader, what the story is actually about.

Facts are interspersed throughout the remainder of the story, and often don't even lead paragraphs but rather remain buried within them amidst a muddle of further descriptive language.

For the conveyance of news, it's actually quite crappy writing.

I hear/read that it's part and parcel of the push for everybody to have a byline and to establish a "name" for themselves. Which I can in part understand particularly in this day and age of contract work and zero job security -- or even a job (as opposed to endless freelancing) per se.

But, for the seeking and consuming of news, it sucks.

I don't have a citation for this, but I read recently that BBC News articles always lead with a concise one-sentence summary rather than something that trails to ellipses... supposedly the original reason was to fit the text within the fixed width of their CeeFax (Teletext) news pages. The result is that their RSS feeds are still rather concisely descriptive.

[1] http://newsrss.bbc.co.uk/rss/newsonline_uk_edition/world/rss...

Common problem, problematic solution.

Humans, no matter how altruistic, have inherent bias that will influence their selection of news to summarize, as well as the nature of their summarization.

Circa is another prime example of right idea, problematic solution. It gives me news and photos with no attribution... not even bylines of whomever created their shortened bits of things that they claim could be news. (intentional sarcasm) There's no mechanism whereby I can learn to trust them, or toolong-didntread.com.

Hi Bill, if you hit the (i) info button on the top bar in the circa app it will show the attribution for each point in a given story.

Now I see that -- not sure why I didn't notice sooner (@@)

I wonder how many other users may have had a different takeaway of the product if the attribution and sources was more obvious?

We are definitely working on calling it out better in an update to the app. Thanks for the feedback!

Oh, you're associated with Circa.

As a digital publisher myself, I'm curious as to how you obtain the rights to the images you're using in the app.

If you want my "TextTeaser" (http://textteaser.com/) can really help provide "faster news". I'm currently doing an API that accepts a URL as an input and returns a JSON result that contains the following: title, url, sentences with their respective scores.

The scores are based on title, sentence length and sentence position for now. Because there are more to come. They are included in the JSON output.

Seems like there are a lot of people trying to tackle this problem at the moment. We are using a different route with our tl;dr Chrome extension for Hacker News: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tldr/ohmamcbkcmfal...

I like https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tldr/giepilabiomhl... better. It doesn't make you leave a website to get the summary and even works with your email, and facebook.

Why don't people like to read anymore?

Reading news isnt necessarily recreational for everyone. Just because someone want to stay informed about current events in a concise manner, doesn't mean they don't like to read. You can consume the news quickly and take your time reading something else that you enjoy.

> You can consume the news quickly and take your time reading something else that you enjoy.

This isn't meant to disparage either your point or the idea being discussed, but there are some things that cannot be condensed without destroying their meaning.

As just one example, on reading the history of the Vietnam War, it becomes obvious that those who moved us into the conflict simply didn't understand Vietnam and ought to have studied longer and deeper before committing troops to an unwinnable war fought over a misunderstood principle. This is obvious now, but only to those willing to read more, and deeper, to the degree that they actually understand the topic.

This obviously doesn't apply to everything -- many topics can be safely condensed -- but the risk remains that an issue will be condensed to a state of incomprehensibility with the best of intentions.

For another example, it is the attractiveness of of tl;dr that make many people think science is a collection of facts. Or that Frankenstein is the monster, not his maker. Or that "decimated" means completely destroyed. Or that "literally" means figuratively. And so forth. Most worthwhile ideas can't be meaningfully compressed past a certain point.

That's what I assumed, but what happens if I'm in a conversation and my knowledge is only as long as the little blurb I just read?

Ultimately it ends up devaluing my conversation and could make for an awkward experience. Better to be oblivious to something rather than semi-educated. So if I'm honest and say "no, I haven't read that," the person I'm speaking with can fill me in and we can have a great talk.

There's a little term I came across a few years ago that's brilliant: info snacking. Paralleled with a healthy diet (food), too much "snacking" can result in poor health. Same thing here: without substance you're but a balloon waiting to be popped.

I see your point but what I'm trying to do with my site Skim That[1] is actually convey nearly all the information in a source story. So, if you just read the summary and someone else reads the source, you should both be able to have a conversation on the same level.

[1] http://skimthat.com

I'm actually a little worried about this trend to make things shorter and more dense. When does it stop? Twitter's character limit was ludicrous at first, but now people applaud its length. I even notice in myself how short of an attention span I have nowadays. If a comment is too long, I'll read half of it and skip the rest. I don't delve anymore, I just skim. I'm wondering how this is affecting us on a larger, longer scale.

I think (or hope) we're learning to compartmentalize our information consumption. As someone who's been involved in "user generated digital content" since before the web, I've had a front row seat for the evolutionary process that, to me, is logical but to others feels accelerated if not sudden.

I see it as our brains adapting to the information overburden that we feel is being imposed on us. As a result, those learning to adapt are creating four categories of information: (1) Stuff I need to know (2) Stuff I should know (3) Stuff I'd like to know (4) Stuff I don't care about

Content shortening/summarization helps augment our ability to quantify what fits into 2, 3, and 4. If I read the first paragraph of a traditionally written journalistic piece, I know where it fits before the second paragraph. But a precious small percentage of online content is written in that manner -- first paragraph giving the reader enough information to know what to do next. (There's a whole rant on our lost ability to write, but that's for later.) So since a smaller and smaller percentage of potentially viable information is written traditionally, automated summaries (should) help us decide sooner where something fits.

Does that make sense or am I just spewing madness?

It appears to be because everything written is believed to be... too long.

Nice clear tablet-friendly design. Bold to go with text-only too. How is this news chosen and paraphrased though?

The info page[0] says a little more, though not much. The news seems simply selected by the small handful of guys behind it, rewritten and posted manually.

This being HN and all I must admit I had my hopes up for something more .. technical. Some kind of text summariser perhaps..

Nice site never the less.

[0] http://toolong-didntread.com/info

agreed. the current "hand curated" approach does not seem sustainable in the long term.

it's already showing some quite old news as a result. the new jersey earthquake was several weeks ago, positioned as the third "world news" story.

great concept and design, though.

>the current "hand curated" approach does not seem sustainable in the long term

I disagree. I had the same idea for a news site and I'm disappointed they beat me to it. I think it would only take me maybe 30-minutes to and hour to summarize the news of the moment. Do it three times a day. How hard is that? You could easily hire extremely smart people to do this. What English major at a top college wouldn't love to put this on his/her resume for some extra beer money?

It is in fact pretty hard :) We are working on content summarization too, with a Chrome extension that lets you read a human written summary of Hacker News frontpage links. Writing the summaries and making sure you're up to date takes time. You need to make sure you stick to the author's point of view, that you really understand the article in depth and groked the key points. Of course it depends on the article you summarize but I can spend a good 30 minutes on one article by Paul Graham or Mark Suster.

PS: the chrome extension I'm talking about is here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tldr/ohmamcbkcmfal... (same one czzarr is referring to)

The volume of news can be daunting. 30 mins to an hour depending on a person's speed might not be that much. Tech news alone can blow past this time frame easily, especially if you want to be relevant, comprehensive, and interesting enough to capture a decent chunk of posts.

That said, I know first hand most people are incapable of writing well much less condense into exact words. This was on my list of to do as well and I've interviewed some writers and those of relevant majors and I assure you, the stuff that comes back is not as good as you think it would be. In the long run, you'd need an army of decent writers that can condense content well.

> "hand curated" approach does not seem sustainable

Seriously, you want to take people out of journalism? Even if it's an excerpt from the story, I wouldn't trust an algorithm to do it for me.

Which is why I believe we are still a long way away from solving that "problem": http://www.techdisruptive.com/2012/09/18/we-are-far-from-sol...

this site isn't about journalism, it's about aggregation.

There's something missing from the summaries: An indication of how much there is to read when non-summarized / how wrong the summary might be.

Two of my favorite examples for this are the DCA cancer treatment news and those people who don't pay for fire protection in counties that don't require it; the typical headlines are "Canada Cures Cancer" and "Firemen stand by as house burns down". The former isn't very true and there's a fair amount to read, while the latter is entirely true, only missing a little, critical, bit.

To put it another way, you're teaching me something with all those summaries, but you're NOT teaching me how much I don't know or when to go look up more information, and I think you should try.

This tl;dr thing can be taken too far --

"War and Peace", Leo Tolstoy, 1,225 pages : it's about Russia.

"Hindenburg" : a really nice dirigible, until something bad happened in New Jersey.

"Adolf Hitler" : politician, didn't like Jews very much.

"Helen of Troy" : nice-looking woman.

"Calculus" : a province somewhere north of algebra.

While I feel like this is a very interesting initiative, my distrust in humankind makes me fear bias and sponsorship. What if a big sponsor decides competitor news are to be ignored and their own news are to be kept at the top longer?

Talk to yourself much?

Ain't my site. I just posted the link and expressed my opinion on it.

Compared to all the others, I really like this execution of the simple, eye friendly design and the color coding. Well done! A small source url after the headline like reddit and HN do, would be a welcome addition imo.

Would a small source url still have benefit when there are thousands of unique domains possible? I think it would be ignored by most people.

Is this trying to be, "headlines done right," "a newspaper's home page done right," or something else? FWIW a combination of twitter and the BBC's mobile site[1] work for me.

I was surprised that Gaza was mentioned on your front page but not world news (at 10:20 ET) and that a 2.0 earthquake in new jersey made world news.

[1] http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world

EDIT: after thinking about it some more, I'm still not sure how your website is different than, "We opened a Tumblr and/or Twitter account." There are lots of link blogs.

Caveat: Not speaking against you (the developers of this) or the work you put into it, but instead against the notion behind this trend of summarizing the news: Why?

That's a curious "Why", not a crotchety "Why". Lots of people are talking about browser extensions that summarize the news or are linking to other sources that do this; is the state of journalism so that a summary is better than what media outlets produce because of excessive filler (redundancy department all hands alert), or because we don't like reading anymore?

People are short of time and want to feel they've skimmed enough news to feel up to date to catch cultural references, bluff their way through a discussion, or notice things 'on the radar' that might be directly relevant to them.

Reading full form journalism is great but if you had to do it for 100 news stories a day, your day is gone. And, right or wrong, many people want to get a breadth of information and then focus on a few parts of it, rather than solely consume a deep amount of information.

Newspapers used to fulfil this role quite well. You could "scan" a paper in 20 minutes and feel reasonably up to date. But "scanning" online is somewhat trickier because of the format. So these services seem to try and bridge that gap of offering you a ton of headlines and summaries all in one place.

I have a request: make a "real news" feed, which is only about things that will actually make your life a bit different. Two or three items a week would be a maximum.

Torn about whether to praise or damn this. On the one hand, I'm critical of modern attention spans, laziness and ADD-addled brains (allegedly) that don't have the discipline and intellectual wherewithal to actually focus on a single thought for a whole minute or more.

On the other hand, far too much of journalistic prose (and even more so, speech) in mainstream media is contentless fluff.

If it would create separate twitter accounts per section (like tech) and autopost stuff there, that would be a major win.

Weird. I like how hacker news is all text and read it daily.

But I could see my eyes getting bored after a while on tldr. I much prefer this layout http://www.rawsignal.com/

Optimized for fast consumption or just dicking around.

One point in addition to what I posted earlier: check out the old (maybe the original) version of Slate's "Today's Papers." It was awesome: a ~1 page prose summary of the major newspapers every morning. The Slatest is but a pale shadow.

Good to see these guys are from Perth, Western Australia. We need more startups here!

There was a previous discussion on this topic (1) but I found skimthat.com served useful information to me via daily email.

(1) http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4734654

I like the idea. I really do. But doesn't twitter do a lot of this already?

Good luck to you.

Recently someone did this to one of my articles and I think they did an excellent job summarizing it, and it got me hooked on reading similar stories. It's a good idea to capture interest and save time

The idea is good but the implementation is what sets it apart, good work!

I love how the featured news contained like 90% tech, and not even a single mention of the current war between Hamas & Israel... with a cease fire brokered by Egypt already.


Human bias.

That's an amusingly long URL, given the context of the name...

i like it, guys! neat! i share the concern about sustainability if humans drive it, but beyond that well done.

i do a sector (infosec) specific site for myself and a handful of friends using twitter to seed links and libots to summarize, works like a champ and has been running solidly and automatically for over 3 years. could be easy to retarget. python, mysql, libots powers it, think delicious+twitter.

Did something very similar to this in node with socket.io realtime updates. http://mashrd.com/

I like this, it's simple and easy to skim. I'd suggest adding date/time so the user knows when the article was published.


I'm not sure there's any advancement here.

clipped.me/tftrial check it out - Its a one man teen startup - would love to get feedback from the community!

I'd like to see the favicons of the original poster's website added.

I will always maintain that "summary" is easier to type than "TL;DR"

This is one of those things I wish I'd thought of first. Good job!

If this was done algorithmically, then it would be way cool.

I like using nextly.com for the same reason.

Amazing, still only read the titles though!

wow. I can't count the number of times I've thought about doing something similar. looks like I don't need to now.

I like Prismatic. Why is that not popular?

The domain name seems slightly TL;DR.

tldr.com would be such a sweet domain name. It doesn't look like it's getting much use right now, either. I wonder if they'd sell.

What is their business model?

No feed.

I always had thought it was TooLazy;Didn'tRead....I guess TooLong also works.

First time I've heard of Too Lazy. But makes sense. Always known it as Too Long

isn't that the point of headlines?

love the idea.

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