Reading text online: Instapaper & Readability

I’ve been reading a lot more articles online. Not just blogs, mind you, but nice “long reads”. It started with our trip to Asia and buying the Instapaper App for iOS. It’s one of the best “reading” applications out there. Its killer feature is the ability to sync bookmarked articles across multiple platforms, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I want to look at the problem of reading long texts on LCD screens.

Keith Peters did a home experiment with a USB microscope showing a Kindle’s eInk display vs. the iPad vs ink on paper at 400x magnification. And this doesn’t take into account eye strain based on font size and glare. Dave Carnoy, over at CNet, wrote an article recently discussing the merits of display types and wonders how the new Nook Color will fit into the spectrum of eReading devices. And here is where I’ll throw in my $0.02.

We used the 3rd generation iPod Touch on our trip to Asia as a laptop replacement. In fact, more than a laptop replacement, because most people will never read an entire book on their laptop. Very few people if given the choice would read a book in its entirety on a laptop screen. And yet we found plenty of old titles for free at the Project Gutenberg library and it added no weight to our backpacks! I find I cannot stare at the iPod touch for more than a couple of hours before my eyes hurt. Unsurprisingly the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4th generation have higher resolution “Retina” touch displays that make text easier on the eyes. Also rumor has it that the next gen iPad will also have a higher resolution display. Kindle and other eInk displays lend themselves to book and long article reading (though currently they don’t run Skype!) but are not backlit.

So that leaves a question of how to make reading easier on the eyes when you’re using your laptop and desktop LCD displays? David Pogue wrote a post a year ago about the wonderfulness of Arc90’s “Readablity” Experiment. They created a Bookmarklet that redirects any page of text online and reformats it for ease of reading. It works best with long single articles, and sometimes on multiple page readings it easiest to click “format for printing” first and then click the Readability Bookmarklet, as all pages will then be formatted on one.

So what does it look like? How does it compare? From a preview of the first paragraph on this page you get:

Versus using the Readability Bookmarklet:

And the beauty of the Bookmarklet is that it’s customizable in terms of margin, style, font size and will even footnote the hyperlinks in a given text so that they don’t distract from reading. Which brings me back to Instapaper. The whole idea behind the Instapaper app is reading. Crowd sourcing, content curation, these are a couple of the buzzwords that are bandied about lately, however, by sourcing from a site such as “Give Me Something To Read” consumers have at their fingertips access to fantastic journalism.

Using the iOS it’s a “native experience” and using Kindle web content will be “synced” wirelessly, either way, the beauty of it is that I don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of magazines, the “Editor’s picks” come to me and if they sound interesting I read them. And I believe that’s what’s most interesting about all of this, whilst countless people have said “The web is dying, print is dying, people never read anymore, etc.” and yet here is proof that the written word is very much alive and easier to access than ever before. So to Marco Arment and Arc90 Lab, thanks.