• 01.30.13

Pressing This Button Will Find Tweetable Sentences In Anything On The Web

Designer/programmer Paul Ford’s “SavePublishing” bookmarklet takes the thinking out of social media. It only started as a joke.

Pressing This Button Will Find Tweetable Sentences In Anything On The Web

“Sharing. It’s hard work,” writes Paul Ford on his cheekily named website Don’t we know it: Any digital publication worth its salt has at least one full-time staffer devoted to picking and choosing and curating and sharing the most clickable snippets of its content for the hordes on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. (Okay, not that last one. But you know what we mean.) Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just click a button to identify what the “tweetable sentences” of any article are, to save you the trouble of reading the whole damn thing yourself?


That’s what Ford has created: The SavePublishing bookmarklet, when clicked, greys out everything in an article except for the passages that are pithy enough for the Twitterati. Those sentences are highlighted in red, and clicking on any of them creates a tweet with the quote and a link auto-inserted. Blammo, publishing saved!

“I doubt it,” Ford admits. In fact, he made the thing as a joke. “As one tweeter said, the bookmarklet makes them want to both high-five and face-palm,” he tells Co.Design. “That’s how I felt too. It seemed like such a bad idea, and yet I decided I needed to build it and see what happened. A friend described it as ‘turning Twitter into Pinterest for sentences’ … I don’t think he was praising it, by the way.”

Ford hacked the tool together in about week (spread over several months, he says), and it’s not exactly the HAL 9000 of social media: It decides what sentences are “tweetable” by checking their length, and nothing more. But even that bare minimum of intelligence is enough to make the tool weirdly useful. “It started as a joke and now it’s serious and I use it all day,” Ford writes on the site.

As a piece of interactive satire, SavePublishing is smarter than it seems. How many articles on how many sites (including this one) are studded with unsightly widgets begging us to constantly barf little chunks of content out onto our social networks like a bird feeding its young? And how much good does it all do, really, for the state of the publishing or journalism business?

At the same time, SavePublishing does work, and its design does solve a subtle problem that those ubiquitous social-media widgets don’t quite handle. “Web pages are weirdly monolithic,” Ford says. “Links and URLs are social, but the content you see on a web page is often hard to share. People who like to share what they’re reading are looking at this material in a very different way from the publisher. They’re looking to cut it and paste it.”

In other words, they want to grab the best part of the content and share that, not just the headline. Which is exactly what SavePublishing makes so stupidly easy. What’s more tweetable than a short-and-sweet bon mot–even if software helps you pick it out? “I have no idea how to save publishing, or even it it needs to be saved,” Ford says, “but I love sentences.” Sounds like something his bookmarklet would pick right up on.

[Image: Hands via Shutterstock]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.