Wednesday, December 30, 2009


In today's New York Times, the estimable David Pogue (I never miss a column of his) offers his "Pogie Awards" for the year's best tech ideas.

Some of these notions are better in the conception than in the execution, but not Pogue's favorite, Readability, a tiny (and free) button for your browser's toolbar that strips out everything from a Web page except the text and accompanying photos. With a single click of that button you're suddenly presented with a narrow (but adjustable) column of text as clean and clear as one in a well-designed, well-printed photo book. No muss, no fuss.

Reading newspapers and magazine content on the Internet can be maddening. Often we're presented with a visual dog's breakfast, cluttered with graphics that howl and bark for our attention. Click on a news story, and you'll get a new page with a bunch of new ads. This can be very annoying, especially since ad blockers no longer work as well as they used to. (There's a war on, you know -- a war between pro-ad and anti-ad programmers.)

The problem of readability seems to be a fairly new one. After all, those of us who grew up with printed newspapers, especially mainsheet-sized dailies, quickly got used to the ads surrounding the stories we read. We trained ourselves to skip over the huckstering, or perhaps just glance at and quickly dismiss it.

Yes, some readers did complain about ad-heavy newspapers and magazines -- but back in those days, most of us understood that the ads paid for producing the papers we bought for a mere quarter. Besides, we almost instinctively knew how to read around them, unless we were actively interested in their content.

The Readability button does make a difference for Web news and blog readers. As Pogue points out, it does not handle all Web pages properly, but it presents most of them swiftly and smartly. Reading long-form articles suddenly becomes almost soothing.

You can get Readability here. Just follow the simple instructions and mouse the button to your browser's toolbar, where it will stay.


  1. That is really remarkable - what a great idea!

  2. I should mention that Readability doesn't do well with home pages, either news or blog. Rather, click on the headline of the item you want to read, then click on Readability.

  3. I noticed the same item in Pogue's column. So I mentioned it to a friend of mine. Apparently, it's old newss, at least to a tech wiz. He told me he'd been using the Readability for almost a year now on his iPhone, where he does a lot of reading. Legible type on a clean page is easier on the eyes.

  4. Readability came out in March, but there seem to have been very few mentions of it on the Internet until Pogue cited it. I'll have to investigate that app on the iPhone -- the Readability site does not mention it.

  5. Looks like there must be another iPhone app that does Readability's task; the iTunes app store does not have it.

  6. I'll ask my friend where/how he gets it for his iPhone and report back.

  7. Henry -- My friend says:

    "The version of Readability that I use on my iPhone isn't iPhone-specific -- it's the same browser bookmark that you can download for any Web browser. (Which is another way of saying that iPhone's implementation of the Safari Web browser is brilliant because, even on a phone, it's basically just a browser on a computer ... if that makes any sense.) I don't use it all the time, but it can come in handy for a recalcitrant Web page that's determined to place its design between its message and your brain.

    "I don't use an ad blocker, but the bloc-Flash plugin I told you about does a great job blocking ads -- precisely because so many of them are Flash nowadays. For me, the value in blocking them has less to do with visual distraction than with the fact that the page loads much quicker without the ads. This is the Flash blocker, if you want to try it: ."

    -- Jan

  8. Can't figure out how to mouse the Readability button to the toolbar of Safari on my iPod Touch. Just not enough of a computer adept to do that.

    Since I don't use Safari on my Macs, Clicktoflash doesn't work for me -- but Flashblock does work with Firefox, and very well. Thanks for mentioning that.