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TL;DR — I’ve recently started writing up summaries of 80k Hours podcasts. While I started them for my own learning, I also hope that they might be useful to others. To help me decide how I should focus my time, I would like to know:

  • Do other people find such summaries useful?
  • If so, what do/would you use them for? 

80k Hours Summaries So Far

Recently I’ve started writing up some summaries of 80k Hours podcasts. The ones I’ve done so far are posted on my website:

Why did I start doing this?

About a year ago, I started summarising books to remember them better and basically get more out of them. I then thought of doing the same to podcasts. Many podcasts I listen to are like “junk food” - short episodes mainly for entertainment, not worth summarising. 

But I also listen to some more difficult podcasts — e.g. 80k and EconTalk — that contain much more valuable information. While I've really enjoyed some 80k podcasts, if you asked me a month later what those podcasts were about (before I started doing summaries), I’d struggle to tell you much at all. Moreover, some podcasts deal with quite complex ideas which I believe benefit from focused listening rather than casual listening. When I focus, I sit down and focus entirely on the podcast, pausing occasionally to mull over ideas. Casual listening is when I listen while walking, cooking, etc - I can easily get distracted and space out in parts. 

Why might these summaries be useful to others?

Book summaries are common but, as far as I’m aware, there aren’t any websites doing podcast summaries - particularly summaries of 80k Hours podcasts.  

I have a few thoughts on why others might find my summaries useful. These reasons may not apply right now, when I only have two summaries, but could if I built up more of an archive:

  • They could help you decide which podcasts to listen to. Many people use book summaries in this way and with some 80k podcasts lasting more than 3 hours, the time commitment for an 80k podcast is not that far off the time required to read a book!
  • Reading or skimming a summary in advance might also help you understand a podcast better and absorb more if you do end up listening to it.
  • A summary could help refresh your memory. If you’re like me and don’t retain all the information in a podcast very well, you might find a summary useful as a refresher after listening to it. 
  • Summaries could be a substitute for people who don’t like podcasts. This one makes me nervous since there is always something lost in a summary and I don’t want to risk misrepresenting the ideas in a podcast in any way. I also worry that I might misunderstand something — although usually, I’ll try to make it clear when I’m unsure of a point. But I know some people don’t listen to podcasts simply because they don’t like taking in information that way. So this could be a way to spread a podcast’s ideas to people it wouldn’t otherwise reach. 
  • You could refer other people to a summary in the course of a discussion or debate. I’ve seen people refer to a particular podcast in some EA forum posts, without referring to any specific part. It’s a big ask to expect someone to listen to a 2 or 3-hour podcast simply to understand your point better, so my summaries could help people refer to a more specific point in the podcast. (I know transcripts already exist so people can already do this to some degree, but quoting from a transcript can be awkward.)

How long do these summaries take me?

A long time. Embarrassingly long. The 80k interview with Will MacAskill was 2 hours 54 minutes. I estimate I took well over 12 hours to write up my summary and my thoughts on it. I haven’t been fastidious about tracking my time, so it's a rough estimate. This includes time spent: understanding and digesting the ideas in the podcast; writing up the summary; editing and reorganising the summary.

I hope to get faster over time as I get more familiar with EA ideas and get better at summarising podcasts. Summarising a podcast presents some different challenges from summarising a book because podcasts are conversational and sometimes meander a bit, whereas a book’s structure is usually a lot tighter. I also don’t have the ability to “highlight” a podcast the way I do a book (I think there’s a feature on iPhones but I'm on Android). 

Is this a good use of time? 

I’m not sure. I certainly feel I get a lot more out of these podcasts when I write a summary than when I just listen to them casually. There are points that I picked up when preparing my summaries that I really did not understand at all when listening casually. Slowing down also gives me time to think more critically about the ideas in the podcast. But a careful summary does take a lot of time and part of the reason I’m posting this is to find out if others also find my summaries helpful. 

If others find my summaries helpful, that would motivate me to keep doing them and I’d keep trying to make them high-fidelity summaries of the original message. 

If others aren’t interested, I’d probably keep doing some form of a summary anyway, but I’d do it less carefully and only focus on the points I find interesting. So please let me know:

  • Do you find these kinds of podcast summaries helpful?
  • If so, what do you use them for? This will help me calibrate the level of detail and care I spend on them.  

What do I plan to summarise next? 

I’m not solely interested in summarising EA things but, as far as EA-related things go my ideas for upcoming summaries include:





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I do find summaries of audio, especially podcass, extremely useful!

Thanks for the feedback!

Thanks for doing this Trish!

Glad you're finding the show useful enough to warrant summarising. 😊

Thanks Rob! As you can tell, I really appreciate the show and the work you do on it. 

These seem neat! I'd recommend posting them to the EA Forum - maybe just as a shortform - as well as on your website so people can discuss the thoughts you've added (or maybe even posting the thoughts on your shortform with a link to your summary).

For a while I ran a podcast discussion meeting at my local group and I think summaries like this would have been super useful to send to people who didn't want to / have time to listen. As a bonus - though maybe too much effort - would be generating discussion prompts based on the episode. 

That's a good idea! I'll try posting the Will MacAskill interview later since that one is relatively recent. 

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