In all these critical reflections about technology and its failed promises, you know how sometimes a service with an app comes along that is indeed helpful and brings great joy? Over the last year, that has been Readwise for me.
Readwise is a platform for collecting anything you read. The missing link between all the services and devices you read on and then work with what you’ve read.
The social object of Readwise is the highlight you made in a text. It gets those from many sources, starting with the obvious ones: your Kindle highlights, those from services like Instapaper, Pocket, and new ones like Matter, which I’ve been using. But it goes far beyond that. Let me emphasize three more import possibilities that took it to another level for me.
Readwise has an app for iOS with an OCR function. When you want to import a highlight from a paper book, you scan the book’s page. It will OCR the text and then let you choose which part you want to save as a quote. You can edit the selection and add the page number and a comment before selecting the book it belongs to. This easy method has made it easier for me to keep the highlights from the paper books I read available and easy to use in the future.
In the beginning, I was capturing the highlights while reading, but this was interrupting the reading process too much. So I’m still reading with a pen in hand and will scan the highlights when I finished the chapter or the book. I found that it enriches the experience when returning to a book a couple of days later to go through the highlights again to capture them. I’ve also now started capturing the highlights from books I’ve read in the past. For me, Readwise is worth its fee just for this feature alone.
If you make highlights in PDFs, you can upload the PDFs to Readwise. It will handle your PDF like a book and extract your highlights. I have a ton of white papers from the master’s study with lots of highlights in them. They can now all become part of my central quotes database in Readwise.
So, what about audio and especially podcasts? I use Airr, a podcatcher that provides two great features: it allows you to mark points in the audio and export them as short clips. You can also request a transcript of a podcast episode so that you can have the text for these audio clips.
Readwise connects to Airr. So when I’m on a walk, listening to a podcast, I press my AirPods’ button three times anytime someone said something interesting. The transcribed clip from that moment then gets automatically synced into my database in Readwise.
Readwise has many more import possibilities (like a way to import Twitter threads, etc.), but these two are the most important ones for me.
Once your highlights and quotes from your reading are in Readwise, there are two main ways to work with them: Readwise can resurface them, and you can export them to other services.
The core feature of Readwise is that it will show you a daily selection of your highlights. Either in the app or via email, it will send you several highlights to remind you of what you’ve read and deemed interesting. For me, I get seven highlights every morning in the app. I can just read them, edit them, and favorite them. I can also tell Readwise to show me more from the source of the highlight in my daily selection or less. I can also share a highlight. If you’re following me on Instagram, this is how I create these quote posts in my Instastories.
I subscribe to Andy Matuschak’s notion to use the learning method Spaced Repetition for everything, and Readwise does a bit of that for me. Instead of seeking out my highlights in books and articles pro-actively, they are now randomly shown to me on a regular basis. Sometimes they trigger the memory of having read the source. But often, I will apply them to current questions or projects I have, and they might spark a new idea or approach.
Readwise has a complete Spaced Repetition system build into it. You can edit highlights to work more like flashcards where it will ask a question before showing you the quote or leave out a word that you have to guess before seeing the answer.
The daily selection of highlights is a fun feature that reminds me of the stuff I’ve read, and that will surface a quote from time to time that I then post on social media. But the heavy lifting for me comes with exporting. Readwise can export in several ways, like into a markdown or CSV file, for example. But it can also export and sync to Evernote, Notion and Roam. I use Roam for this, and to give you an idea about the worth of Readwise for me, let me explain my typical process.
Highlight in Matter
Let’s say I read an article in Matter and highlight my favorite quotes. The highlights, along with the metadata from the article, get synced to Readwise automatically, where they will resurface from time to time via the daily selection. But they will also get synced into a new note in Roam in my preferred formatting and show up in my Daily Notes. I’ve also customized the export so that each article works with my spaced repetition in Roam, which means that the quotes from each article, PDF, and book I read regularly resurface in Roam. The text from the highlights will show up in the search in Roam and especially in the “unliked mentions” that make Roam so valuable as a networked-notes tool.
Highlights in Roam
And here’s the kicker: when I connected Readwise to Roam, it synced my whole back catalog into Roam. Any highlight I’ve ever made, be it in any Kindle book, the thousands of articles I have in Instapaper and Pocket, are all now in my Roam database and available for searching and connecting to my current thinking and writing. This still blows my mind.
I hope you now have a better idea why I’m happy paying the full premium price for Readwise every year. It always felt like I would read texts, and most of it would disappear into a black hole in my mind. Not anymore.
As I’ve mentioned in the last issue of this newsletter, we’ve been doing a lot of research around Synthetic Media with Third Wave. Besides our experiments, we’ve worked with the innovation department of the largest public broadcaster in Germany to create a futures report on Synthetic Media. The report has been launched publicly a couple of days ago and is available for free to anyone (who can read or translate German).
Usually, our work is buried in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). So it’s a big deal for us to be able to point to something like this in public.
As always, I’m interested in your feedback and questions about my thoughts and musings. Just hit reply on this email.
Have a good one