I love Readability!

readabilityIf you spend any amount of time reading things on the web, you should be using Readability. Yes, I think it’s that simple! I really started using it after Anil Dash blogged about it back in November, and it has made an incredible difference for me. Here’s what it does:

“Readability turns any web page into a clean view for reading now or later on your computer, smartphone, or tablet.”

Simple enough, right? Simple, but powerful. After adding a simple bookmarklet to my browser, I am just one click away from having any web page become instantly more readable. And by that I mean larger text, a consistent font, and no clutter. Or I can save an article for later, or I can even send an article to my Kindle to read on that device instead.

Here’s an example of the difference it makes. The square on the left is the original article, and the square on the right is the Readability page that I get after clicking the bookmarklet (if you’re not logged in, you’ll have to click “Readability view” at the top of that page to see what I am talking about).

The comparison is better when you look at the actual pages, but do you see the difference? The Readability view is just text, no clutter. I could turn off images too, so even the featured image wouldn’t show up.

Here’s another example. Compare this Edmonton Journal article about Stephen Carter and Linda Sloan’s tweet debacle with this Readability view of the article. Which would you rather look at? On my laptop, with a resolution of 1600×900, the actual text of the article is below the fold on the Journal. With Readability, I can start reading right away, with nothing to distract me.

You can control the way it all looks too in the settings. You can pick a different color scheme, a different font size, you can hide images, etc.

In case you’re wondering about lost revenue because the ads aren’t being displayed, Readability has a solution for that too:

“Readability features an innovative way to support writers. Become a Readability Subscriber and 70% of your monthly contribution will go toward supporting great writing. Subscribing is entirely optional.”

“Here’s how it works: Every time you use Readability to read an article, a portion of your monthly contribution is earmarked for that publisher or writer.”

It’s a neat concept.

I love Readability. It makes the experience of reading things online much better. I’m also a fan of the Kindle functionality. Santa gave me a Kindle for Christmas, and with Readability I have been able to quickly and easily get content on it to read on a screen built for reading! I love reading the stuff at Longreads and Longform, but I spend enough time in front of a computer screen as it is, so being able to send those articles to my Kindle is huge.

If you read stuff online, check out Readability. You can see my reading list on Readability here.

The Amazon Kindle

Post ImageAmazon.com is venturing into the hardware industry on Monday with the launch of their new ebook reading device, Kindle. The image I have included to the right comes from a September 2006 post at Endgadget, so I have no idea if that is just a prototype or if it is a reasonable representation of the shipping product. I hope just a prototype, because it’s kind of ugly. The device is 4.9 inches by 7.5 inches by 0.7 inches and weighs 10.2 ounces (so slightly larger than the iPod classic, and double the weight).

Newsweek has a seven page article up all about the device, and after reading it, I’m pretty excited (though still distraught over the look…beige is so pre-Internet). I encourage you to go read it for yourself, but here’s the gist of the article:

  • The Amazon Kindle will sell for $399 USD.
  • It has no back-light, and utilizes E Ink technology that mimics the readability of ink on paper.
  • Battery will last 30 hours and will fully charge in just 2.
  • Wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi and EVDO.
  • Does not require a computer. You can buy the books on the device with one-touch and start reading.
  • There will be 88,000 books available at launch, for $9.99 each.
  • You can subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • You get a private Kindle email address. Send a PDF to it, and the document is automatically added to your library, ready to read on the Kindle.

The Newsweek article then goes into the history of ebooks, and provides a pretty good analysis of how the Kindle could transform both reading and writing.

Don’t you wish you had one of these? Or maybe one of the second generation Kindles, with color screens, a sleeker design, and a lower price? I do. I know ebooks have been talked about for years, but the Kindle could be the device that finally opens the floodgates. The killer feature, as far as I am concerned, is the inclusion of wireless connectivity. It’s a big, big deal.

You don’t always have access to your computer, and even if you do, connecting a device to it is an annoying step that needs to go away forever. With a wireless connection, the Kindle can do everything on its own, without the need for a computer. Score one for the inclusion of wireless.

As the Newsweek article states, the Kindle is "the first ‘always-on book". That could transform the way books are published entirely! I read a lot of non-fiction, and I like to buy the books when they are brand new. For instance, I bought Freakonomics as soon as I heard about it. The problem is that these books almost always have a second "revised and expanded" edition! There’s no way I’m going to buy the book again. With the Kindle however, I could subscribe to the book. The author could update the book on the fly, and I’d see the changes instantly, wherever I am. How cool is that?!

Another key advantage to the Kindle’s wireless feature is the ability to venture out onto the web. You can look up something on Wikipedia for instance, and then capture passages to your Kindle library "with an electronic version of a highlight pen." Combined with the fact that you can send documents to the Kindle, it could become your hub for all kinds of reading. Books, newspapers, blogs, documents, and web pages.

There will always be critics and individuals who say nay to the idea of ebooks, but it’s a losing battle for them. From the Newsweek article:

"I’ve actually asked myself, ‘Why do I love these physical objects?’ " says [Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos]. " ‘Why do I love the smell of glue and ink?’ The answer is that I associate that smell with all those worlds I have been transported to. What we love is the words and ideas."

Microsoft’s Bill Hill has a riff where he runs through the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. "Do you really believe that we’ll be doing that in 50 years?" he asks.

Amazon’s Kindle attempts to solve the first problem – the affinity for the physical book – by being a device that disappears as you read. The print is clear and crisp, the device mimics the size of a paperback, and there isn’t much to distract you from reading (I guess that’s one advantage to the less than sleek look). It solves the second problem – environmental waste and inefficiencies – by getting rid of the need for paper altogether.

I think the Kindle could be good. Read the Newsweek article, and also this post by the author, Steven Levy. In it, he addresses the "ugly" reaction that bloggers like me have had. There’s even more on the device at Techmeme. Maybe in a few years you’ll be reading this on the Kindle!

Oh, and don’t let the $399 price tag get in the way of realizing how much potential the Kindle has. After all, when the iPod launched in 2001, it was priced at $399 too.

Read: Newsweek

Harry Potter Mania

Post ImageAre you ready for Harry Potter mania? I am! And by that I mean I’ll happily ignore it just as I have for all the previous books. I haven’t read any of them. I’ve only seen two or three of the movies. It’s not that I am anti-Harry Potter or anything, I just (for whatever reason) have never gotten into it.

I do intend to read the books one day, simply because so many other people have read them. It’s almost like I am obligated to read them in order to really be part of society or something. I’m fine with that – I always give my best “WTF” look when someone tells me they have never seen Star Wars, and I’d rather not be a hypocrite.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the new book, as I’m sure you know, and it has broken all kinds of records:

Amazon said that as of midnight, it has received more than 2.223 million pre-orders worldwide on its various Web sites, eclipsing the previous pre-order record of 1.5 million held by the sixth book in the series.

Apparently on its busiest pre-order day, Amazon.com received more than 1.75 orders per second. Ridiculous and impressive, all at the same time!

You’ll notice the picture above is of The Simpsons – I found it here. I haven’t seen the episode, but I guess The Simpsons spoofed Harry Potter in one of the Halloween episodes. Here’s a seven mintue clip. Good stuff!

If you’re a fan, enjoy reading the book this weekend! If instead you’re an indifferent muggle like me, try not to spoil it for the Potter-heads, mmkay?

I still like magazines!

Post ImageDon Dodge asks whether newspapers and magazines are dying. I’ve been in this discussion before, at least for newspapers:

I hate almost everything about newspapers. I don’t like the size of the paper. I don’t like the way it makes everything black. I don’t like that every page has to be jammed full of stuff. I don’t like that the pages are not full color. I don’t like that once I find something interesting, I can’t do anything with it (like send it to a friend, or blog about it with a link, etc).

Needless to say, I think newspapers are a dying breed. Or if not dying, at least drastically changing (I still read newspaper websites online, for instance). The physical newspaper as we know it, won’t be around too much longer.

Magazines, on the other hand, will be around for a while I think. I’ll give you two pieces of evidence to support this. One is Chris Anderson’s mainstream media meltdown which shows that while newspapers, television, music, and others are losing eyeballs and subscribers like crazy, books and magazines are somewhat mixed. This suggests to me that people find magazines more valuable than say, a newspaper. Not the content itself (I am not suggesting that people don’t find a TV show valuable) but the medium – I think people like physical magazines and books.

Which brings me to my second piece of evidence – the magazine itself! Despite still not being able to do anything with the content in a magazine, the size is usually comfortable, and the pages are cleanly laid out and colorful (and don’t make my hands black). I often will refer back to a magazine article (and the articles themselves are usually longer and more indepth than your typical newspaper story). Don thinks the outlook for magazines might be worse than newspapers because newspapers are local focused. Perhaps he’s right, but I think it takes longer for a magazine article to be out of date than a newspaper story. There’s hope for magazines yet.

Don also asks: “What are your reading habits? How do they compare to your parents reading habits?” Probably not fair for me to answer that question, as my parents are fairly young and very tech savvy. My Dad subscribes to the Edmonton Journal online, and I doubt they read any other physical papers except the local “Inuvik Drum” (which I think is probably the norm in towns of only 3000 people).

Bottom line – newspapers will disappear and I won’t be sad to see them go. Magazines may disappear too, but it will take longer, and until we have digital books or magazines*, I’ll be sad to see them go.

Note: I’ve never actually subscribed to a magazine. I’m very a much a “buy on the spot when I see one that looks interesting” kind of magazine shopper.

* – by this I mean a physical book or magazine that looks like one today, except that it wirelessly connects to the Internet to update the content to be whatever I want to read. So pages don’t have “print” on them per se. This gives you the full benefits of say, a laptop, but with a form factor that is more natural and easy to read. And believe me, it’s coming.

Read: Don Dodge

Book Wishlist

Post ImageI went and bought my first textbook of the semester today. I picked up “Rethinking Society in the 21st Century: Critical Readings in Sociology” from the UofA Bookstore, and I even waited in line to pay – do I feel like a student now or what! In any case, I got to thinking about some other books I want to read, so here’s a brief list (omitting subtitles), in no particular order:

  • The Search by John Battelle
    This book really interests me, and it’s recieved some really great reviews thus far. Plus, I read and enjoy John’s blog all the time, so I am pretty certain I’d enjoy the book too.
  • The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil
    The man is a great thinker and theorist, and so his comments on the content in this book (artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, human longevity, etc.) are particularly intriguing. I read JD Lasica’s review today, and despite the warnings of being very dense in places, I think I’d really enjoy reading the book.
  • The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil
    If I am going to read the new book, I figure I should read this one too. Sounds like it sets up much of the content in the new book.
  • Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright
    Another book by a blogger I read all the time! I was fortunate enough to be a reviewer for Jeremy on this book, though I probably wasn’t really that helpful! I really should have this book by now, I just haven’t gotten around to ordering it.
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
    I picked this book up in Chapters the last time I was there and read the jacket and a page or two and it seemed quite fascinating. Unfortunately I didn’t buy it at the time as I had a list of other books I needed to get first, but it’s definitely one I’d like to read.

All non-fiction books, strangely enough! I haven’t read much fiction lately now that I think about it, not nearly as much as I used to. Of course, I still don’t have the textbooks for my other two classes!