Readability implies “a quality of writing (print or handwriting) that can be easily read” according to the definition. Readability is also the name of a web and mobile application that was mentioned in the OL Daily earlier this month and which I find fascinating. What it does is very simple: it de-clutters a web page from colour (and optionally picture), from flashing ads and banners, sidebars, badges, feeds, messages, hyper-links and basically from any elements that will “distract” the reader. It strips the structure of the page back to a single column of pure content, like a .pdf document with very large font or like a(n) (e-)book page. The application can also convert hyper-links to … footnotes or send selected articles to an Amazon Kindle.
|CC Vermont Historical Society – Flickr|
Is this not a sign that web design has come full circle and that a lot of the “newly” designed web pages I come across today tends to simulate and reproduce the paper-based book or print page? The design for the Readability app is very 19th century with vintage black and white drawings and a retro club armchair as a logo. It actually falls short of an endorsement by Nicholas Carr, the author of “The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember” since Readability not only encourages “deep” reading but also supports writing. Readability is a free browser add-on and it comes with a subscription option so that “every time you use Readability on a particular article, a portion of your subscription fees go right to the content creators. You get a fantastic reading experience. Publishers and writers get compensated for the content you enjoy. Everyone reads happily ever after.”
In chapter four of The Shallows, Nicholas Carr writes:
The bond between book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one, a means of intellectual and artistic cross-fertilization. The words of the writer act as a catalyst in the mind of the reader, inspiring new insights, connections, and perceptions. And the very existence of the attentive, critical reader provides the spur for the writer’s work. It gives the author the confidence to explore new forms of expression, to blaze difficult and demanding paths of thought, to venture into uncharted and sometimes hazardous territory. ‘All great men have written proudly, nor cared to explain,’ said Emerson. ‘They knew that the intelligent reader would come at last, and would thank them.’
In a way, making web pages “readable” is nothing new, it simply brings us back to the core principles of Web Accessibility Guidelines. But elements of hypertext fatigue combined with information overload can also explain a return to minimal design and focus on content. The recent introduction of Dynamic Viewson the Blogger platform for instance follows a similar pattern, and for that reason, I am happy to switch this blog to a classic view.