on March 8, 2013

Ah, TL;DR. The go-to answer from any web developer who receives an email or blog post that makes their eyes glaze over. TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) is a battle cry for brevity, a filter for signal from the noise. The typical response to such a claim is a simple rewrite: find me the meat of the matter and email me that. Developers (and all of us, really) don’t need a five paragraph theme clogging their inbox.

There exist some amazing tools to reach for when these uber-long emails come our way, and they’re actually built right into the Mac OS. Friends, we’re going to talk a little bit about OS X Services. These services are built-in and third party tools that allow you to automate tasks, make boring things more efficient, and generally plow through tasks on your computer. We’re going to look at two that drastically improve your intake of long pieces of content: Summarize and Add to iTunes.

To get started, you’ll want to enable all these geeky services from System Preferences >> Keyboard, as such:

Services panel


This is my favorite oddity of Mac OS X. Nestled away in the Services menu exists the ability to boil down a long piece of text into the most important paragraphs and sentences. A guy at Apple wrote an algorithm that analyzes frequently used phrases, similar words and emphasis points in an article to establish patterns. You can use Summarize to narrow the list down to the most important patterns and get the gist of an article without. actually. reading. it. Check it out:

Select some text (in this case, I found an extremely long Wikipedia entry about Wyandanch, New York), and access the Services menu in the menu bar:

Summarize Menu

Now, a magic dialog box appears:

Summarize panel

From here, you can use the Summarize UI to select how many sentences or paragraphs you’d like to see. In most cases, this is shockingly accurate. Here, you can see a few key sentences about Wyandanch and glean that this is an article about a storied and historic town. Pretty neat, right?

Send to iTunes

For my next trick, I’m going to take that same lengthly article and convert it into a spoken word track. No, I’m not calling William Shatner, I’m using Services. Similar to Summarize, you’ll want to select some text and find the Services menu:

Add to iTunes Menu

Save the file, and select your favorite robot voice (I like the standard Alex, myself).

Add to iTunes dialog

The file will export, and you’ll have an AIFF file waiting for you. You can listen right away or even pop this onto your iPod and listen on your evening commute (if that’s your thing):

Playing Spoken Word

With these tools, and some healthy email etiquette, you’ll spend less time reading and more time acting. That’s the whole point, right?