In the age of instant image sharing (think Instagram) and bite-sized information (like the 140-character format of Twitter), can micro-insights really teach us anything?

Instaread is an app-based service that offers the insights and key points of popular nonfiction books to the time-poor.

The app is available as a free download for iOS, but to access any of the content you will need to subscribe.

On the SA iTunes store, this is available as a free week-long trial, followed by a R99/month subscription package.

The app presents books in two formats: read or listen. It also provides estimated times for each, ranging from five to 30 minutes.

Books are broken into subsections: overview, key insights, important people, author’s style, author’s perspective and intended audience.

In the listening format, the app also includes short cuts to rewind, fast forward and play the audio at regular speed, or 1.5 or two times the speed — for the super time-poor.

The app interface is clear and intuitive. An Android OS version is not yet available, but is expected soon.

An obvious downside of this format is that it provides the talking points of a work of research without the nuance or complex argumentation that is frequently used to make the said points. For most of these popular books, there is a lot of research and careful construction of argument incorporated into the text (often arching over several chapters) and designed to bring the reader to the author’s viewpoint over time and through engagement with the argument.

Can this be as effective if it’s just a case of stripping out the primary talking points and presenting them as digestible chunks?

The format wouldn’t work for works of fiction or literary nonfiction, where the writing itself is key. Having said that, the summaries are thoughtful, curated (which is what you pay for) and not uncritical of the author or the thesis.

The bottom line is that if you feel the need to know the central proposition of books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, Too Big to Fail, or other bestsellers for casual conversation around the dinner table, Instaread is good enough. If you’re going to hang your reputation on any of them, though, it’s best to go back to the original source.

Instaread app

Cool factor ***

Usability *****

Value for money ***

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