First Impression: Readwise Reader

As you might tell from Library Notes, reading is one of the great pleasures of my life. As a techno-optimist, one of the great disappointments of my life is that the computer revolution has not done more to improve readers’ lives.

That’s why I’m excited to give Readwise Reader a try. I love the Readwise team’s mission: “Improve the practice of reading through software by an order of magnitude.” Their flagship product, Readwise, helps you manage the highlights and annotations you’ve made in ebooks. I’d probably be a big user of this service if I hadn’t already built Library Notes. (I tried Readwise and loved how seamless the integration with my Kindle library was. If you’re a heavy Kindle user, I recommend giving Readwise a try. However, I’m going to stick with Library Notes because I want to make sure that all of my notes stay on my own computers, forever.)

Readwise Reader goes a step further than Readwise: It’s a complete digital reading experience that integrates content and annotations. Some things I love about what they’ve done:

  • Their reader handles all “modern” content: Blog posts, twitter threads, PDFs, newsletters, and epubs. (Sorry, Kindle.) Even YouTube?! I haven’t tried their YouTube integration and I can’t envision what that’s like, but it’s certainly true that there’s a ton of interesting educational content on YouTube these days.
  • They have all of the great annotation tools from Readwise integrated into their reading experience.
  • They’ve added science-fictiony features like “Ghostreader,” which uses GPT-3 to help you do things like summarize passages and generate flashcard content.

Speaking of GPT-3, I’ve been meaning to learn how the new wave of generative AI products work. When I came across “Transformers from Scratch”, I thought it would be a great testing ground for Reader. Here are my impressions of Reader after using it for this initial article:

  • The app’s reading experience does what it needs to do: Gets out of the way and lets me focus on content.
  • On the iPad at least, where I did my reading, the highlighting experience was a bit finicky. Often the highlight wouldn’t start on the precise word I intended, and I couldn’t find handles to adjust the highlighted range. I had to delete the highlight and start again.
  • I loved being able to follow links in the article I was reading to original PDFs and other helpful tutorials and add those to my reading list. This is a great feature for doing research. My “learn AI” reading list is already growing.
  • Ghostreader feels like it could be really useful. When I was reading “Transformers from Scratch,” I came to this section, and it seemed like important information for my brain to really internalize. I asked Ghostreader to generate a flashcard for the section, and it produced the following:

Q: What are three practical considerations when implementing transformers?

A: 1. Computers are especially good at matrix multiplications. 2. Each step needs to be differentiable. 3. The gradient needs to be smooth and well conditioned.

Not bad!

I plan to keep using Readwise Reader as I try to teach myself more about modern AI. I think the Readwise team is building a great tool to help readers’ lives.