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.