The Skim.it concept is simple: the app takes large pages of text and condenses them into short, bite-size summaries that can be shared between contacts.
Available to add as a bookmark button in Safari, IE and Firefox, and as an extension in Chrome, Skim.it aims to pluck out the key points from copy-heavy articles at the click of a button – in just 0.3 seconds, the site claims.
These clippings, known as skims, can be saved to noticeboard-like virtual canvases. After signing up for a free account, these can be viewed on the app website and help to collate similar content.
The format is reminiscent of Pinterest and, similarly, contacts can follow or be invited to access canvases on Skim.it too. From there, users can comment on content and share – if they so wish – them on social media platforms.
To trial Skim.it, I challenged the app to simplify rocket science – and all before the kettle had boiled – using a Wikipedia article on aerospace engineering.
Almost instantly, the site generated a skim. The paragraph defined key terms, offered a short explanation of the principles and, for the purposes of what I required, provided an adequate synopsis.
On closer inspection, the skim was a slightly edited version of Wikipedia’s basic introduction, omitting a little historical context.
Although left wondering whether such a tool was totally necessary when a glance over the site’s opening lines would have sufficed, the skim was slightly streamlined and gave the option to save the note to my new ‘Science’ canvas and add a comment.
I also tested Skim.it against a news site.
This time, it merely shunted the first three and the last paragraph together, creating a fresh article that, at 109 words, wasn’t much briefer than the original.
Skim.it does tend to stick to a set formula – primarily concentrating on the opening three to four paragraphs and the final one.
Although traditional article layouts do often communicate the bulk of information within these beginning and final thoughts, that’s not to say that a key point required for a research task is always contained here.
How would Skim.it cope against content where all elements are integral to its meaning, then?
The first chapter of the Geneva Convention, for example. I wondered if the app would generate a series of bullet points, or highlight crucial terms or themes. But instead, Skim.it was unable to produce a summary.
Ouch. Skim.it’s performance seems to vary on the nature of the request. Not ideal.
The app seems to be geared towards summarising topics or defining a word, and isn’t suited to technical or legal material. Skims themselves might be limited, but apparently Skim.it’s capabilities are, too.
By their very nature, apps are continuously being updated and developed to provide the best possible customer experience. Skim.it may still be a work in progress but the fundamental idea remains solid.
Skim.it does, perhaps, have its place in a company setting: its speed and public canvas functions offer a great way of sharing relevant short news stories between colleagues, or could be used to gain a topic overview during brainstorming sessions. In selected situations, Skim.it has its merits.
But forget enlisting the tool ahead of a pitch or putting together a substantial report.
The ‘Paragraph1+2+3+end’ formula, though effective in some searches, is never going to be able to a fool-proof method of getting to the crux of a subject.
When it comes to significant ventures, you can’t replace old-fashioned research methods; if you need to learn about a subject ahead of an important presentation, you’ll be far better-equipped if you’ve taken the time to pore over an article in its entirety – a skim is far too limited.
Platform: Web browser. Soon to be available on iOS.
Final thought: The app goes some way to solving that Monday morning panic of realising that you’ve forgotten to do your geography homework and need to have a grasp of the San Andreas Fault before first lesson.
The app offers a summary condensed enough to absorb on the bus, detailed enough to see you through a multiple choice test, but will fall short should you be tasked with penning a thesis. It may be easy to use but when the stakes call for something more than the very basics, shun Skim.it and read the whole story – you don’t want to risk missing something!