With a single click, you can reformat a busy web page so that only the main content is visible. I first wrote about this in Filters for Reading on the Web, where I also discussed why extended reading on a computer monitor is so difficult.
Since that time, there has been an explosion of interest in helping people read without distraction. Apple has included a Readability button with the Safari browser. All browsers but Safari now include a full screen mode. Many web page reformatting services have come and gone.
But Readable and Readability are the two web page reformatting services which came out first, and both have withstood the test of time. Both also came out with new versions in early 2011. Here’s what you need to know about the latest versions.
The latest version of the Readable bookmarklet is free, very fast, lets you customize appearance with easy-to-use controls, and works on most sites. For those occasional instances where Readable doesn’t automatically grab the text you want, go back to the web page, select the text you want, and click again on the Readable button.
The old version of Readable still exists. But it will no longer be maintained.
Readable creator Gabriel Coarna intends to maintain and improve the new version of Readable and make this speedy service even faster with browser extensions. He does not intend to add a read-it-later service or the ability to merge multiple web pages into one. But he does intend to add a way to share a Readable-formatted page. The current feature set works very well for those who simply want to read without clutter, one web page at a time.
Thanks to a philosophy emphasizing speed and simplicity, no reformatting service currently works faster or with less clutter than Readable.
Readability 1.0 was popular, fast, convenient, uncluttered, and effective. Recently revamped Readability 2.0 is still effective, reformats multi-page articles into a single page, and settings can now be changed without having to reinstall the bookmarklet. But there are some drawbacks:
- It takes 5-15 seconds to reformat a web page, compared to 1-2 seconds for Readability 1.0 and the latest version of Readable described above.
- The new method for accessing controls involves a colored strip that you can hide or show on the left hand side which uses up more screen space and attention than the former buttons up top.
- The F5 key no longer refreshes the screen to the original web page.
So the new features come at a cost, which in my opinion outweigh the benefits. However, I expect that arc90 will find a way to speed up Readability, and continue to make other improvements.
With Readability 2.0, there are now two versions: free and paid. In addition to the free functionality described above, the paid version also allows you to seamlessly read articles later and on a variety of mobile devices. Readability can be set up using a browser extension or a bookmarklet.
The paid version of Readability is an ambitious experiment to change the business model for reading on the Internet. Currently, you read for free but content creators get paid when you click an ad or purchase a product or service. With arc90’s experiment, content creators get paid by arc90 each time you read something. In return, you get a better reading experience with no ads or other distractions.
The paid version costs $60/year. It remains to be seen if users and publishers embrace this new Internet content business model.
For those who don’t care for the new version, the old version of Readability can be had at Readabilitude, which copied the open source code from the old version. So far as I can tell, it works just like the old Readability.
Tips for Using Readable and Readability
- Both Readable and Readability provide various customization options such as choosing fonts, text size, and line spacing.
- You can specify the content width for each of these services, so the number of characters per line is not excessive on a wide screen monitor.
- Readability also provides options for turning off link visibility and hiding images.
- Both Readable and Readablity now work in Google Reader.
- It is possible to choose FilterJoe colors by choosing the “Joe Golton” color theme when setting up Readable. Other color themes are available as well, or you can set up your own color theme.
Readable Vs. Readability
I’ve used both Readable and Readability since they first came out two years ago. Readability used to be my favorite because it did a better job of identifying and extracting the main text of sites I visited.
With the latest versions, Readable has matched this ability and become very fast. Meanwhile Readability added useful features, created a paid version with even more features, and is encouraging outside developers to build upon their platform. While I applaud arc90’s bold experiments with Readability, these changes have unfortunately increased visual clutter and increased web page reformatting time to 5-15 seconds per page.
The main purpose of using one of these tools is to be able to read without distraction. Adding 5-15 seconds of load time and a vertical bar to each web page is a distraction. So for now, I’ll be using Readable.