Writer's context, reader's context
I’ve been toying with two things for the last week: (1) a thing that uses semantic distance/similarity to build a short outline from prose, and (2) a thing that just regurgitates the original text but with a "heatmap" highlighting key/summary sentences. I've been using it to read almost everything I can use it on. My takeaways so far:
- The outline is rarely what I want, by itself. Because I often want to see "where did this sentence come from?" and see the surrounding in-document context of sentences, and taking sentences out-of-context makes them hard to read except for a certain class of writing like news reports where each sentence is a pretty stand-alone reporting of facts.
- The heatmap is distinctly easier to read, because my eyes can sort of scan for highlighted sentences and adjust in real time how much detail I want to take in about a certain section, using highlights as cues. If I read a highlighted sentence and I feel like I’m missing context it’s also trivial to rewind visually to the start of the paragraph.
- I also made a thing so that I can click on a sentence in the heatmap and see sentences that are most close to it semantically, which usually ends up being like "supporting reasoning" or "what else the author said about this" which is surprisingly useful. But I have to scroll around to see all of them which is annoying. I'll keep iterating on the design of this bit.
My high level conclusion so far is that there are two kinds of "contexts" when you’re exploring any text or collection of texts, and both matter equally. There’s original context/situated context which comes from the original source, and semantic context/reader context which is all the things that sentence/note is related to in the reader’s personal universe of ideas.
Whether I’m reading or taking notes, I want to quickly get a gist of key ideas and see them placed in both kind of contexts. So I think the interface challenge (in my view) boils down to: Can we have a reading/writing interface or notation that allows easily seeing excerpts from a large collection of texts/ideas in both the original/writer’s context and the reader/semantic context?