The New Readability: Betting On The Web

After months of work, we’ve finally let loose the new Readability. Jenna Wortham has a great write-up around the launch that nicely summarizes the trends around technology and the reading experience.

We’re really excited about the new Readability. It’s a massive leap from the 150 or so lines of javascript that snuck out of the Arc90 lab almost two years ago. The response back then, both by the development community (Readability is baked into Apple’s Safari browser and the Amazon Kindle, among other places) and users in general really blew us away.

About six months ago, we were sitting around wondering what to do with this thing. We could’ve just left it alone and moved on, but the sentiment surrounding the tool and reading in general was so powerful that it just didn’t feel right to just move on. And so, we gathered to brainstorm what to do next with it. We tossed around features and various ideas around how to make the “product” better. Amidst the brainstorming banter, partner and Arc90 lead strategist Tim Meaney went ahead and dropped the proverbial bomb on the conversation. His pitch was essentially this: let people pay and give the money to the writers and publishers. The features are great, but let’s use this as an opportunity to wrap a great reading experience around the web we all know and love. No apps. No walls. No micropayments. No hardware requirements. Build it on the web and let’s put forward a mechanism that connects the money readers give us with the people who create all that great content that flows through the web every day.

I’ll be the first to admit that this approach hasn’t been without its fair share of anxiety and heated discussion. There’s not a whole lot of precedent to lean on for comfort. We’re putting out a service that asks people to pay money on the web (challenge #1), that asks people to pay more if they can afford to for the same suite of features (challenge #2) and we’re effectively providing a service that, in its current incarnation, presents no new or exclusive content of any sort (challenge #3).  There are probably other challenges, but there are also a lot of reasons to head in a new direction.

We believe the time is right to try something bold and innovative on the web. And “on the web” is what this service is all about. Our goal is to create a platform that embraces the web without compromising it. It’s rare that you find an opportunity to create something that embraces the openness, the fragmentation, the mayhem of the web. We believe Readability has that chance.

We also believe that quality content is worth paying for. The rat race for page views and impressions has not only led to an oftentimes painful experience on the web, but also to a diminishing of quality content on the web. Today’s reality isn’t anyone’s fault but ours. We won’t hesitate to spend $4.00 for our daily cup of coffee (that’s $80.00 a month if it’s part of your daily routine) but we’ll balk at even a modest attempt at supporting the volumes of content we consume on the web. Readability represents an opportunity to show all the great publications, writers and bloggers out there that we care about quality and we’re willing to pay for it.

We’ve got some amazing plans and announcements lined up for Readability. Be sure to follow @readability on Twitter to stay in the loop. If you have thoughts or feedback on the service, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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