How to Use AI to Ask the Literary Universe for Answers

Artificial intelligence is being explored for use in every sector, for every purpose you can imagine. Today’s tool leverages the information in Google Books to allow a user to pose a question and see a list of “answers” in related quotes from books.

Google Talk to Books is an experimental tool designed to respond to questions asked using natural language, as opposed to using keywords. In other words, you can type a question in sentence form (Why do dogs bark?) and get better results than using a sentence fragment (Why dogs bark).

I feel obligated to issue a warning that this is the kind of tool that you can lose a whole afternoon (or more) to. Asking the same question in different ways will get different results, and those results often lead to engaging book passages. Next thing you know, your “to-be-read” pile is out of control.

That said, let’s try some sample searches.

Simple Search Interface

In true Google fashion, the page features a search box that prompts the user to “say something to books.” I started with a basic question with a scientific answer – “Why is the sky blue?”

Screenshot of search results including passages from books in all categories.

This brought up a list of five passages, with the option to load more. Each entry includes a citation and is clickable. You can follow the link to read more.


For my next question, I went for something more informal. It turns out this had scientific responses, too.

Question posed: Why are cats so weird? Search results include their keen senses and other attributes that differ from other animals.

To see what sort of non-factual answers I might get, I narrowed the results to fiction using the filters in the upper right.

Filter books by category list includes: arts, current events, fiction, history, literary criticism, and more.

The new results:

Same search with results filtered to fiction. Includes statements that cats are strange and that beings seemed wrong because they were descended from felines.

These results looked more like places I might find similar observations but in more imaginative settings.


Next, I tried rewording my question, which led to very different results.

Screenshot of question "are cats possessed?" with results about their relation to demons and how they can attack seemingly without warning.

These results were a little more interesting, for sure.

Give it a try and let us know how it went in the comments!

How to Run Better Meetings with an AI Assistant

A new productivity tool seems to pop up every day, but I recently learned about one that could be a game-changer for my meetings. Otter.ai is a tool backed by artificial intelligence that takes notes at your meetings (whether online or in-person) and helps keep everyone you share with on the same page about what happened in the meeting. The free version is fairly robust, but if you use this tool for business, the paid features and additional transcription allotment may make a subscription worthwhile.

Signing Up

When you start to sign up for an account, it makes it look like you need to subscribe to a paid plan, but you don’t. When prompted, pick a meeting platform. When it states you need a subscription, click skip in the upper-right. This will bring you to your free account dashboard, where you are offered a tutorial.

What Can Otter.ai Do for Me?

The free account includes 300 minutes of recording transcription and only 30 minutes per conversation. After conversation transcription processes, you can:

  • Edit the transcription, add highlights or comments, create action items, and insert images.
  • Share the finished product with attendees or other stakeholders using a link with embedded view/edit permissions.
  • Control whether users you have shared with can export your content.
  • Create folders to organize your conversations.
  • Export the conversation.
  • Send direct messages.
  • Create a group and invite collaborators.

Unfortunately, the scheduling integrations with Zoom and the creation of a workspace (team) require a paid subscription.

The Interface

The home page is clean and simple, with menus at the top and left. The top menu includes options for starting a transcription.

Screenshot of top menu items: box to paste meeting url, record button, and import button
Options for getting started

The left menu can be expanded by clicking the blue arrow that appears when you hover near your first initial (or avatar).

Screenshot of the expanded left menu
  • Access your conversations
  • See what others have shared with you
  • Manage groups and folders
  • Direct messages
  • Click on your account name to access all of the available settings for the tool.

After selecting a conversation from “My Conversations”, you can see the transcript in the main area, with a menu specific to that conversation at the bottom and additional options in the upper right.

Screenshot of the conversation page, showing the transcript, playback controls, and other options.
  • Use the edit link in the upper right to correct any transcription errors.
  • Use the bottom left menu to control recording playback.
  • Use the bottom right menu to highlight, comment, create an action item, or insert a picture at any point in the conversation.
  • See additional conversation options, including delete, by clicking the three-dot menu icon next to the blue share button.
  • Use the blue share button at the top to send view/edit links and control whether the conversation can be exported by others.
Screenshot of the sharing window, showing options to enter email addresses and change view/edit and export permissions

Pro Tips

  • When you use a meeting URL to record the meeting, it appears as a meeting participant. Depending on your meeting permissions, the Otter.ai user may not be admitted if you don’t have control of the waiting room or if meeting links are bespoke per user (as with some paid registrations).
  • If there is going to be downtime in your meeting, you may want to end the recording so you don’t waste your minutes. You can always name the individual recordings to connect them as part of a larger meeting.

Summary

Otter.ai could be a valuable tool for any individual or group who doesn’t have an assistant or designee to take notes and follow up. Even if you do have a human who is tasked with keeping a record of meetings, having a transcribed recording leaves less room for interpretation or error.

Generate Eye-Catching Titles for Content Using This Free Tool

The most important component of any written content is the title, whether it’s an ad or an article. If the title doesn’t spark interest, the reader will move on and the content probably won’t be read. For some, writing titles is an innate skill. For the rest of us, there are tools that can help.

The website I am highlighting today is Headline Analyzer from Monster Insights, but it is far from the only free tool on offer. Coschedule has one, as does Sharethrough. If you are creating content for a WordPress blog, some search engine optimization plugins, like All in One SEO, have a similar feature built-in. Keep in mind, though, that they may not all have the criteria for what makes a great headline. I used Monster Insights to create the headline for this article (of “perfect” length), only to have All in One SEO tell me it was too long by a single character.

Another caveat about these tools is that you can create a high-scoring title that makes no sense, just by using desirable keywords and staying within a certain number of characters. You can also accidentally create a title that people think is simply clickbait (named so because it goes overboard on keywords to generate clicks that lead people to unsatisfying, ad-loaded pages). These days, most people just skip clicking on over-the-top titles, so you’ll want to avoid that.

Analyzing a Headline

When you have a draft headline that you would like to test, type or paste it into the box at https://www.monsterinsights.com/headline-analyzer and click “Analyze.” The score will pop up below the box.

Screenshot showing an overall score of 73, noting a good score is between 40 and 60.
The score for the current title of this article is 73

According to their parameters, this title is good to go. But this wasn’t the first title I tried. This tool tracks your tries to help you remember what configurations you have already used.

Screenshot showing previous draft titles and their subpar scores.
A few earlier draft titles

As the screenshot demonstrates, even the order of the words in the title can make a big difference in the score.

Improving a Headline

If your first draft isn’t getting the score you hoped for, the tool will give several suggestions on how to improve the title.

First, the “word balance” area will show you how many words you are using from each category, and how many you should shoot for.

Screenshot showing the balance of common words, uncommon words, emotional words, and power words used in the title.

Scrolling farther down, word banks are provided to give you suggestions for words in each category:

Screenshot showing columns of power words, emotion words, and uncommon words.
Word banks to help you fine-tune your title

Another area points out the tone and type of your headline and offers suggestions.

Screenshot showing the sentiment is positive and that positive headlines get better engagement. The type is "general", and lists and how-to headlines get more engagement.

I could have added “How to” at the beginning of the title, but then it would have been too long. The word I choose to cut may then affect the word balance negatively. Ultimately, the final title is up to what sounds good to you and what fits in with the writing style of your content.

Summary

Creating a great headline is a balance of several factors, and there is no one perfect title for any piece of content. Hopefully, a headline analyzer can provide you with enough guidance to tweak your titles to improve engagement, regardless of which suggestions you take and which you ignore. Do you have a favorite tool to help you write your headlines? Let us know in the comments.

Have You Tried our Technology Help Site Yet?

One of the most common requests we get from patrons, aside from book recommendations, is for technology help. Gone are the days when you could avoid using computers, as technology has crept into every corner of our daily lives. Our librarians are very helpful, but it’s just not possible for them to stay updated on all things about all tech and still have time left over to do the rest of their jobs.

We have created services and acquired resources to get you the help you need, and we have a landing page where we have gathered them all. To get there without a direct link, go to https://eglibrary.org and use the menu to choose: what we offer>services>technology help.

At the top of the page, you will find links to our digital literacy classes. We have recently partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County to provide our in-person classes. This area also contains information about our appointment-based individual help service – Book a Librarian. As you scroll down you will see online resources by subject. Click on the subject title to see the resources.

One service we offer, Tech-Talk, is actually several services in one. It is a collection of articles, short videos, and webinars about a wide variety of tech topics. We have featured them in several of our posts. They also offer a subscription newsletter that drops a tech tip in your inbox once a week. We’ve made a video to show you how to use Tech-Talk and embedded it here.

If you have used some of the resources on our technology help site, let us know what you think! Is there any subject or information you would like to see added? Let us know in the comments.

Has Tech-Talk Improved Your Tech Skills Yet?

The East Greenbush Library provides technology help in a variety of formats. We conduct classes, offer one-on-one assistance by appointment, post help videos, and have a page dedicated to online help articles and videos gathered from vetted websites around the internet. Did you know we also have a subscription resource available to our patrons with great articles, videos, and webinars for users of all skill levels? Whether you’re a technology pro or you’re just getting started, Tech-Talk has something for everyone.

While we’ve featured Tech-Talk and some of their articles before, this time we’ve made a quick video to highlight how to find what you are looking for in Tech-Talk. Can’t find what you’re looking for? You can submit requests for future articles and videos on whatever tech topic you need.

If you’d like to receive a weekly quick tip from Tech-Talk in your inbox, along with information about upcoming webinars, sign up for the Tech-Talk newsletter on the main page.

Have you tried Tech-Talk yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.