The Lurker: The Subversive, Disruptive Nature of Readability

Readability is a tool that allows the user to turn any web page into a:

comfortable reading view right in your web browser. Too busy to read right then and there? Readability makes it simple to save your favorite articles for reading later.

Readability is available for Firefox and Chrome as an extension. For Safari, Readability comes as a core component called “Reader”—a button located at the end of the URI bar. Reader for Safari, however, is “available only if you have Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard or later, and “the Reader button appears only when a web page contains text-based articles.” For other browsers, like Opera, one may also install Readability as a Bookmarklet.

I have used Readability extensively since it came out, and have found it particularly useful not just for reading regular web pages, but also when saving web pages and blog posts in Zotero. Until the other day, however, I did not consider any of the broader implications of Readability. Beside just improving the readability of a text–based page, Readability also impacts how we read, how we use a web page, and how we interact with not just the visual design of page but also with the writer of that web page. As Jeffery Zeldman argues, Readability is disruptive because

Readability focuses the user’s attention on the content, creating an enhanced–and often much more accessible–reading experience. It also subverts the typical web browsing design paradigm, where each website offers a different visual experience

Zeldman also argues that Readability disrupts not just “typical web browsing design paradigm,” but also because it disrupts content monetization.

For the first time, content monetization is no longer the problem of content creators. Writers can stop being salespeople, and focus on what they do best: creating compelling content. The better the content, the more people who engage with it via Readability, the more money writers will make–with no bookkeeping, no ad sales, and no hassle. This is a huge subversion of the ad paradigm.

I was struck by the issue of content monetization that Zeldman brings up. Based on my experience, most humanists on the web seem to be very much behind the idea of open access and open publishing, and content monetization does not seem to have been issue, or at least not one that I have seen considered in discussions revolving around issues of publishing and authority. Readability, however, does strike me as having some place within this discussion. I could be wrong on this point, seeing something that is not there, but just out of curiosity: How should humanities scholars—and academics in general—view Readability and its subversion of not just the typical web browsing experience but that of content monetization? Comments, thoughts, issues?