All posts tagged ‘Safari Reader’

Revamped Readability Rewards Writers [Updated]

The new Readability pays the sites you read

Readability, a browser tool which isolates the text on a webpage making it easier to read, has announced it’s moving beyond its humble beginnings to become a “full-fledged reading platform.” Readability will now offer iOS apps and, more importantly, it’s no longer a free tool.

The new Readability will cost you a minimum of $5 a month, with 70 percent of that fee going directly to the writers and publishers whose sites you visit.

Readability and similar tools, like Apple’s Safari 5 web browser have been criticized for cutting into publishers’ bottom line by eliminating online advertisements. The new non-free Readability is at least in part a way to address this concern. As readers, most people want a clean, distraction-free reading experience. At the same time no one wants to deprive their favorite websites of the income necessary to keep the site going. Readability’s new pricing plan is an attempt to find some common ground and keep everyone happy.

Not only does the new Readability give readers an option to hide ads and view a more readable page (which they may well be doing anyway), it provides a new source of income for the site. Even better, that additional revenue comes from the actual content, rather than simply the ads surrounding the content.

Ironically, in testing the new Readability, I realized that most sites I read regularly already have clean designs, nice typography and uncluttered layouts — sites that don’t really need Readability. But the new payment system can help those sites too. Readability’s payment system turns the service into something more than just a reformatting tool — it’s a bit like a roving micropayments system, handing out money to sites you enjoy.

Here’s how it works: The minimum fee is $5 a month, though Readability encourages you to spend more if you can afford it. The money is then split up between articles where you use Readability. Visit only one site and it will get all of your money; visit several dozen and each will see only a few pennies unless you up your monthly payment. You can use the Readability web interface to see where your money is going. It’s like micropayments, but all the transaction details are handled behind the scenes by Readability.

Of course you aren’t just paying the writers and publishers. Thirty percent of your monthly fee money goes to Readability, which has some new browser extensions, web badges, an API and some nice looking (though as-yet-unapproved) iOS apps built around the popular Instapaper.

The Instapaper contribution means that in addition to the “Read Now” button, which gives you a more readable version of the current article, there’s also a new “Read Later” button. Read Later works just like it does in Instapaper, saving the article to your account for when you have more time to read. Unfortunately, right now there’s no way to actually integrate your Instapaper account with Readability.

The “Read Now” and “Read Later” buttons can come from either the Readability browser extension, bookmarklet or from the site itself using a new embedded button (there’s also an API for more sophisticated integration).

Despite the integration tools and new payment system, it’s unlikely most sites will ever get rich from Readability. Of course it’s unlikely most sites are making much from Google Ads either, and it certainly never hurts to have another form of income, even if it is measured in pennies.

[Update: For those worried that Readability is no longer free at all, we should note that you can keep using the bookmarklets and browser extensions without paying for the service.]

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File Under: UI/UX

Design for Readability First

Safari 5′s seemingly innocuous new Reader feature, which isolates the text on a webpage making it easier to read, has sparked a surprising amount of outrage from web publishers who think Apple is trying to squash online advertisements and attack their livelihood.

But there’s been an equally distinctive and vocal reaction from readers, one that can be summed up quite simply: “Thank you.”

Similar tools have been around for eons, starting with the “Print this page” link of the last century, all the way up to tools like Readability, whose code Apple borrowed for its browser. But the advent of Safari Reader seems to have galvanized a point of view that’s been brewing for a while: Webpages are too cluttered and difficult to read.

So publishers, listen up. Your readers, the people you depend on to reach your bottom line, have something to say. It’s a pretty simple message: Your webpages are hostile to reading. It’s time to start paying much closer attention to the design of your pages — not just to reduce clutter and make everything easier to read, but to make sure your text maintains that readability across the broad range of screen sizes, devices and browser configurations people are using today.

It’s telling that Apple, a company with a history of only adding the most-needed features to its products, decided its browser would benefit from a tool that strips away the clutter on a page. Of course, one could make the argument that Reader is simply a subtle attempt to drive publishers toward Apple’s iOS platform, where you can create apps filled with iAds that can’t be removed. However, it would be a shame if that’s the only message publishers took from Safari’s Reader. After all, Reader is not an ad blocker, and given that there are ad blockers available for every browser, Reader is hardly a new threat. Reader is only presented as an option after the page has loaded, the ads have been displayed and impressions (i.e., the money part) have been registered.

The message of Reader (and tools of its ilk) isn’t that the online publishing model is doomed, but that it desperately needs a reboot to get rid of all the junk that’s clogging up the whole point of the system: connecting readers with the information they want.

Savvy publishers have an inkling that something is wrong. The popular British news site The Guardian, for one. The Guardian notes in its review of Safari 5′s Reader feature, “technologies like Safari Reader sound a salutary warning to media companies and advertisers…. From now on, we must love our readers or die.”

But The Guardian is putting its money where it’s mouth is. The site recently launched its Open Content Platform, complete with a Content API which allows anyone to grab an article from The Guardian and use it how they see fit — within the guidelines of The Guardian‘s terms of service.

One of the best creations to come out of The Guardian‘s new API is Phil Gyford’s Today’s Guardian.

The primary purpose of Today’s Guardian is to make reading news articles easier. For Gyford, that means eliminating distractions — sidebars are gone, comments zapped, menus pared down and page navigation radically simplified. We take issue with the removal of comments, but in short, it’s The Guardian redesigned with ease of reading as the primary goal.

As Gyford notes in his overview, it’s “a shame that such tools are even necessary … if you were creating a site whose purpose is to provide articles to read, wouldn’t you want to make it perform that task really well?”

If you’re wondering what makes a more readable design, read through Gyford’s post first. Also check out Mandy Brown’s In Defense of Readers on A List Apart. It’s filled with excellent advice on what to think about when designing a reader-friendly layout. (She’s the creative director at Etsy.)

“Limit distractions to the full extent possible,” Brown writes. Pull quotes are great, she says, as long as they’re near the top of an article where they can draw a reader in. But they become distracting farther down. She also advises on white space, typographic treatments, and where best to place your visual distractions so you don’t foul up the reading experience (the top and the bottom).

Brown’s own site, A Working Library is an exemplar of usability. Load it in Safari Reader and the only things that are removed are the header and footer.

A clean page layout falls apart when the proper attention isn’t paid to typography, and in that department, Blaine Cook has some homework for you. He gives you a way to calculate the proper text size mathematically by sizing all of your text in ems. This makes it much easier to find the proper pairing of column width and text size, giving your readers an easier time no matter what resolution, browser, or device they’re using.

He points to two useful tools: his own RePublish, which helps solve font-size issues across multiple screen resolutions, and Mathias Nater’s Hyphenator.js, a JavaScript library that intelligently reflows your text with clean hyphenation so you can run justified columns.

Cook’s methods will “make your site look amazing on the shiny new devices,” he says, but they will also improve readability in a good old-fashioned desktop web browser. On that note, he warns against the common practice of designing different layouts and serving different stylesheets for different-size screens.

“You shouldn’t be optimizing for iPads,” Cook writes. “Or iPhones. Or iPhone 4Gs. Or Nexus Ones. Or 30-inch 90ppi screens, or 30-inch 300ppi screens. You should be optimizing for reading experience, and you should be using the best techniques available to do so.”

Advice? Links we should see? Put them in the comments below.

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Photo: Vlasta2/Flickr/CC

File Under: Browsers, UI/UX

Safari 5′s ‘Reader’ Simplifies the Web

Steve Jobs hates your website’s design.

That’s the impression we’re left with after playing with Safari 5′s new feature, Reader. It takes a web page and, in Apple’s words, “removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles,” presenting a clean, uncluttered version of the page content.

To try it out — head the Safari download page and grab a copy of Safari 5, which was made available Monday for Mac OS X and Windows. Click the Reader button (located in the URL bar once a page loads) and Safari 5 will overlay the current page with a black shade. You can also launch it with a keyboard shortcut (Command-Shift-R on a Mac, Esc to exit). The main article on the page is shown against a plain white background, stripping away ads, sidebars, headers and footers. Also, Reader pulls multiple-page articles into the window, so once you hit the first page, you don’t have to click anything to read more. Just scroll down, and the extra pages are tacked on at the end automatically.

The result is a clear message to web designers: Your designs are failing your readers. In contrast to what we all see everyday, Reader’s vision of the web is a very clean and more readable place — there are no distractions, nothing competes for your attention, the web page is suddenly simple and elegant.

It’s no secret that most people spend very little time on a web page; sites have mere seconds to capture a reader’s attention. With so many sidebars, gadgets, animated ads and other confusion, is it any wonder that most people just move on?

Reader’s vision of the web doesn’t make sense on every site, but for long articles in particular, it’s a godsend.

Read our full walk-through of Safari 5 here on Webmonkey.

Of course, Reader isn’t an entirely new idea. Browser add-ons and bookmark scripts like Readability have long offered the same feature (with customization options even), but this is the first time we’ve seen a browser ship with the feature. In that sense, Reader could be a signal of the tides changing.

On one level, Reader seems like it could hurt publishers by subtracting ad revenue, and it could hurt ad networks like Google’s. But Safari loads the entire page — ads and all — before it presents the Reader button in the URL bar. So, by the time the person clicks on the button and launches the Reader view, the ad impressions have already been counted. Reader also has the ability to string multiple pages together, and it appears as though Safari is loading all of the information (including the ads) from the next pages, but only displaying the text. Ad impression numbers should be unaffected by Safari Reader, but click-through numbers will no doubt go down. Also, we noticed some ads served within the text body made it through into the Reader view, so it’s not perfect at stripping out ads.

The message that ads are distracting is nothing new — ad blockers are as old as sin — but the the more interesting implicit message is that the web is currently a cluttered confusing mess. Or at least Apple thinks it is and, having used Reader all morning, we’re inclined to agree.

Apple’s vision of the web does not include Twitter sidebars, recently popular article links, fancy headers or sharing widgets. In short, Reader cuts through the distractions to the actual content. Of course, that’s exactly what good design should do in the first place — focus your attention on what’s important. If every web page were well-designed, there would be no need for Reader. Clearly, that’s not the case.

As web developers ourselves, we appreciate experimental page layout designs. But when it comes to actually reading things on the web, less is far more. In short, we’re hooked. Well, technically, we installed Readability in Chrome and Firefox, but conceptually, the idea of a cleaner, simpler, more readable web is a step forward.

What remains to be seen is how designer’s react to Reader. Some backlash seems inevitable; some sites may even go so far as to block Safari — though that would an extreme move given that just because you’re using Safari does not mean you’re using Reader. In fact, most users may not even notice or use the feature.

However, we’re hoping that not only will something similar appear in other browsers, but that web designers will focus on simplifying their designs. Reader takes things to an extreme. There are ways to give content focus without eliminating nearly everything, and we look forward to seeing that idea gain more currency.

We’re also looking forward to an iPhone version of Reader that eliminates iAds.

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