Readability, our sinister plan for world domination (or a humble attempt to make reading easier on the Web, depending on your perspective) really took off this week. Thanks to the nods from the blogging elite ( Swiss Miss, Lifehacker, Kottke, Daring Fireball and ReadWriteWeb among many others pointed the way) the bookmarklet has been hit nearly 100,000 times (and counting). Pretty insane.
Its release also seems to have hit a nerve for many users of the Web. People are just tired of all the junk that seems to be getting piled on (and around) readable content. The comment thread on the corresponding post spawned an interesting debate as people questioned the potential evil of such a tool. Is it evil to effectively block ads and make reading easier for everyone? Mandy Brown gave the most lucid response. In part:
In regard to ad revenue: it is a mistake for any content site to heed the needs of their advertisers at the expense of their customers. The advertising/content discussion up until now has occurred in the advertiser’s lap, with the assumption that consumers of content must bear any and all matter of obnoxious advertising as the price of said content. But this vision of the conflict fails to heed the effect that advertising has on the value of content: the more cluttered the content becomes, the less worth consuming it is, and so on, with the end game scenario looking very much like the one million dollar homepage: all ads, no content, and not much reason to visit once the gimmick is up. That’s a dead end for advertisers and consumers alike.
Bingo. It’s really too bad that Readability should have to exist at all. The mayhem that people are forced to experience just to read is a dead-end for everyone involved. We would like nothing more than to see content providers rendering a tool like this useless (or at very least frivolous), not through a code arms race (that’s a waste of time for all involved) but through thoughtful, friendly design that evinces a real concern for consumers.
Ancillary to this discussion, and most satisfying to us, is the great feedback we’ve gotten from those that have vision problems or cognitive disabilities that make visiting Web sites with clutter difficult. Numerous people have thanked us for providing this tool. Content providers should be aware that they’re not only providing a distracting experience but shutting an entire segment of their readership out entirely.
Maybe this is just an awkward time in Web advertising? Maybe this is the equivalent of the “Brought to you by Geritol” phase in TV and radio where sponsors plastered themselves all over a given program. Maybe we’ll look back on all the lousy, noisy pages of today ten years from now and laugh at how ridiculous the Web used to be.
I hope that’s the case. Until then, we’ll just have to find our own ways to turn down the volume.