I think it’s far too difficult to extract the key ideas from most content. I’m mostly speaking of books, but the idea really abstracts to any medium where the goal is to transfer concepts to someone.
What I want to be able to do is get an explanation about a particular piece of work that is tuned to how much time I have available to learn it.
So if I am in an elevator with a co-worker who works on another floor, and she tells me that my favorite author just put out a new book, I might ask:
What’s it about?
My co-worker knows that I want to hear a one sentence summary, so she says:
It’s about how humans often regress in later life to believes they were taught as children.
But if she and I are at a coffee shop, on a Saturday, where we normally meet the rest of our book club, and she asks me what some other new book is about, she’ll want to hear something like the following:
It’s about how marketing controls everything we do, including how we present ourselves to others. The author gives tons of examples of how different brands signal different things, and that this is why people buy them–to signal those things to those around them.
I adjusted to context and gave a level of depth that fit with it.
We need this for all books, and all content. When a writer creates something there should be an Idea Expansion Format (IEF) summary created for that work so that people with varying amounts of time can consume it as desired.
Here are some possible levels:
- The top level of the book is a single sentence 
- The next level is a list of key points around the size of a paragraph 
- The third level is a chapter that describes all major points 
- From there each chapter is broken into it’s primary sub points 
- Finally there is a level deeper that gives examples of each sub point 
So the main text is like a flat, opaque narrative that is not able to easily be parsed easily by people looking for key points.
Every piece of work should be broken down in this way so that one can efficiently consume new information.
You don’t get everything by consuming work in this way. There are narrative pieces that are missed that can help with absorption and acceptance of the ideas.
But this format should not be seen as a replacement for classic writing formats. It should instead be used as a supplement, and can also help content creators by reminding them of what their work can be distilled into.
We need a tool that parses content and converts it into IEF format. Ideally this will be an automated process that happens with every piece of work that’s created, and it’d be co-published along with the main work.
In the meantime we should come up with the framework and structure, and then have services (people) perform the summarization manually.
There are so many ideas out there. So many authors. And so little time.
We need this.
- If anyone knows of any such summaries, please let me know.