Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reading Utilities: Readability and Instapaper

Reading on the web can sometimes be challenging. Text blocks are broken up, advertisements are flashing relentlessly, type can be tiny. What is a person to do to make reading on a web page more pleasant? Enter Readability , a nifty utility that removes the clutter around what you’re reading. Readability works with most major modern browsers and has been tested on many news sites and blogs. It isn’t 100% effective but works surprisingly well.

First you can choose your preferred style from among newspaper, novel, ebook, inverse (light on dark) or Athelas (graceful using white space to advantage). Then choose your font size from a range of five from extra small to extra large. Finally choose your margin width ranging from extra narrow to extra wide. All of these selection choices can be viewed for effect at the bottom of the page as you choose so you can immediately see their effects and fiddle until you're happy with your selections.

You have an option to convert hyperlinks to footnotes by checking the box at the bottom of your setting choices. What will this do? Articles are often strewn with links — distracting you from the content — and pulling your attention elsewhere. Selecting the "Convert hyperlinks to footnotes" checkbox will pull the links out of your articles and format them as footnotes. Originally linked text will be marked with a simple reference mark so that you know exactly where footnotes correspond to your documents.

Once you have selected your settings, you simply drag the bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmark toolbar. When you find an article that you want to read, click on the bookmarklet and presto, you will be able to read it in the format that you have chosen.

Readability - Installation Video for Firefox, Safari & Chrome from Arc90 on Vimeo.

Install Readability and enjoy some quiet reading without distraction thanks to the folks at Arc90 and their laboratory experiment. And if you like their little experiment, don’t forget to follow their RSS feed or Twitter while you’re there.


Now that you’ve used Readability to declutter your reading space, you might want to check out another utility that allows you to save web pages or articles for reading later. Instapaper is an app that will bookmark web pages, but rather than saving them to your PC or Mac, Instapaper allows you to access archived articles from any computer you own, even smartphones and Kindle e-book readers.

Instapaper works the same way as Readability by creating a button in your browser toolbar. Go to Instapaper and click on “register for a free account”.

When you’ve registered, this is what you’ll see:

Simply drag the “Read Later” bookmarklet to your bookmarks toolbar. (If you have trouble with installation, check to be sure that Ad Aware or another pop-up blocker isn’t blocking you from adding the bookmarklet.) Once installed, all you need do is click the “Read Later” bookmarklet on a page you want to read later.

Be sure to check out the “Extras” tab at the top of the page to see what other tools, toys, features and applications are available to get content into and out of Instapaper. There are so many ways which you can use Instapaper, it will make your head spin. Check out the many ways from bookmark to e-mail to ebook readers to mobile devices and RSS feeds that you can save content to read later. There’s even an app similar to Readability but using a different technical approach called “Instapaper Text” which you might wish to try. And you can export your list of saved articles, up to the most recent 2000 articles you've saved.

Play outdoors while the sun shines but stock up your reading for a rainy summer day using Instapaper.

Happy reading with Readability and Instapaper!

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