Using Twitter for book summaries

On: February 17, 2009
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About Bas Bisseling
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Every university- or college student has to deal with books to build a foundation of knowledge within a field of expertise. My learning method is no different than method other students use (I Think). This is my method; the first step is using my magic marker to highlight important text. Then I’ll collect the marked area’s and will write them down in a chronological order by using MS Word. finally, I will summarize the most important bits into a readable and coherent text. As far as I know, their is not really a practice of working together in summarizing lectures. Google Docs has the functionality, but I don’t use it often…

I think it would be interesting, as an experiment, to find out if would be a helpful medium to summarize text in a cooperative manner. Thus, collectively building a summary using

I started of by summarizing Lawrence Lessig’s ‘Free Culture’ (creative commons licence) and putting the important bits into The result is an bunch of lines (summary-bits), which are structured as followed. A line starts of with the chapter name, e.g. Introduction. It is then followed by quoted text, the author and a page number. (The image will link to the Twitter summary)

Book summary on Twitter

Book summary on Twitter

A disadvantage I immediately did come across, was the lack of ability to post a comment directly targeted at (under) a twitter post. Howe ever, that’s just not the way (wants to) function(s). If you leave a comment, it will – based on the time of the post – show on top. Twitter’s monologue-logic prefers time over context. is totally different, but its tree-functionality works!

Three-structure comments

Three-structure comments

Another disadvantage of’s functionality was the inability to filter posts. As a result, users have to start reading the summary-bits backwards. Users prefer to read the summary-bits in a chronological order.By using the Twitter-API, I am able to change the summary-bits into a data set, which can be modified. In the picture below, the result of the data set is showing. Because, I’ve used a consistent ‘syntax’ within the text, filtering the data set was easy.

Using Twitters API

Using Twitter's API

To conclude this little experiment. I think it’s very interesting to think about cooperative ways of writing summaries and micro-blogging. is not the best medium as it is. Due to the lack of direct commenting and filtering. But altering its functionality, for example using its API, will create opportunities. So, I do recommend a forum based structure, like the example. However, building a Twitter clone with adjustments would be the best solution for writing summaries in the future.

5 Responses to “Using Twitter for book summaries”
  • February 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    It’s a cool idea, but I think the 140 limit might get annoying when trying to include lengthy quotes. Probably Tumblr would do a better job, and then you could also have the comment treading.

  • February 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    The idea of summarizing text cooperatively is, for me, to apply quotes together. For example, if I miss a key argument, then someone else could insert that quote into the right place.
    I am not sure if Tumblr has the functionality to insert (or respond to) a quote in between quotes. Anyway, the 140 characters are a hassle. That’s why I have to use the freaking ‘…’ a lot. It should be possible to stitch them together later on. Thanks Chris…

  • February 20, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Interesting experiment, you could try TwitBlogs where you do not have the limit of 140 characters and the possibility for commenting, how did you extract data from the API here?

  • February 21, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Hannah, I did use a Twitter API based on Json. It’s very easy to have this embedded. Here you can find some documentation:

  • September 25, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I came across your post as I was Googling to see if anyone else had done something like this. Perhaps the best way to go about this is to publish a standard for book summaries pushed to Twitter? I haven’t figured out all the complexities of the tech side, but it would be nice to “subscribe” to the stream, set the frequency of updates, and then have it feed into your own Twitter stream. For instance, I am thinking about your summary of the Lessig book – I could subscribe to that in Twitter, set it to send me two tweets a day, and away it goes. Some of the tech I can see through, but there are some hurdles I can’t get over. Thoughts?

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