Progressive summarization of audio & video to retain more of what you hear in podcasts & watch in online lectures.

I read a lot, and in a lot of different places. Sometimes I’m just reading for fun, but when I’m reading something that I want to remember and be able to share with others or apply in my own life, I have found annotation and progressive summarization to be effective approaches. These approaches generally require text, but with the addition of a few services that mostly play nicely together, you can extend this approach to audio and video.


Accounts at Otter, Readwise, Hypothesis, and Roam.
The Hypothesis toolbar in your browser of choice (I like Firefox).

The Process

Let’s say you’re watching a lecture. Instead of trying to scribble notes in a notebook that you’ll later have to transcribe into Roam, you open Otter and let it start creating a text transcript. Take pictures or screenshots as you go, because Otter will be able to place those in the transcript according to timestamp. When it comes time to review, you use Hypothesis to annotate the Otter transcript, then you write some notes in Roam summarizing the insights from the lecture. If you’ve connected your Hypothesis account to Readwise, your highlights will be occasionally re-surfaced for you to review, which is a key step in making them actionable. There’s also a way to get spaced repetition in Roam.

The Setup

At Readwise, you have a bunch of options for connecting highlights. Enable Hypothesis and it will pull in all your highlights from Hypothesis, including the ones you’ve made on the Otter transcripts. You’ll find them under the Your Articles section at Readwise. You can review there and write up summaries in Roam, linking to other concepts and notes.

Why It Works

It works for me because I use Readwise as a sort of catch-all bucket for all the stuff I already read in so many places – Kindle, Twitter, and all the stuff I find via Twitter and shove into Pocket – and now I can also use Otter to convert things I listen to or watch into a form that Readwise can catch & periodically re-surface for me.


  1. When you select ‘view in article’ at Readwise, it will take you to Hypothesis, not Otter. Otter can generate sharing links to annotate or you can export the transcript and annotate it somewhere else that’s publicly accessible, which is probably the best course so you have your own backup.
  2. Making extensive use of all these services costs a little money. Readwise is a couple bucks a month, and Otter costs a little bit if you go over their free minutes. Roam likewise has a subscription plan. I personally believe that if you are going to invest a lot of time and effort into building a personal knowledge management system, you’re going to want that system to stick around and get better, so you’re going to hope they charge enough to do so, but I know even a couple bucks a month can be hard to come up with on a grad student budget, so here’s some options. Most YouTube videos have a transcript generated by Google, which may be of higher quality and won’t use up your Otter minutes. Also, Docdrop is a service from the founder of Hypothesis that facilitates annotation of all sorts of document types and can accept Youtube links.
  3. These services are all relatively new. There is a possibility that they go under or get bought by a company with a different privacy policy. Carefully inspect the privacy policies of all the services you use, consider not using services that don’t let you delete or get your content out easily (Evernote, for example), and keep your own backups. I will note that services getting acquired is not necessarily a bad thing. My company, Mendeley, was acquired by Elsevier 7-ish years ago and it’s still going strong. Also, services that charge money tend not to be as intrusive to your privacy.