Change how you read online

By Jason Griffey |

I decided that this month I wanted to share a couple of very specific tools that I find invaluable for dealing with information online. These two tools make reading long form text online so much easier and more convenient that I can't recommend them enough. The two tools are the Readability bookmark from Acr90 Labs, and the Instapaper service.

Readability is a bookmarklet, a little piece of javascript code that lives as a bookmark in your browser's toolbar that allows you to do something to the page that you are viewing. In the case of Readability, it performs some reformatting magic and strips all the cruft, sidebars, ads, and other surrounding junk on a webpage and gives you a nicely formatted chunk of text in a format that you choose. Choices include style (Newspaper, Novel, eBook, etc), font size, and margin/line length. All you need to do is make your choices, and then drag the bookmarklet to your bookmark bar in your browser. Anytime you run across a long article, click the bookmark and Readability gives you a very legible version of the text. Readability is an incredible help if you read online magazines, or other large text blocks online in a browser. Give it a try.

Instapaper is even more magical. I often see references to articles that I'm interested in, but may not have time to read at the moment. Instapaper solves this problem by allowing me to transform the online text into something that I can carry around with me, and access in a number of different ways. You install Instapaper in the same way you do Readability...visit the site, make some choices, drag a bookmarklet to your browser bar. When you find something you want to read later, you click the Read Later bookmark, and the text of that article is saved to your Instapaper account. You can then view the article at the Instapaper site, but better yet, you can view your reading list on nearly any mobile device, either by visiting the mobile website directly or using one the iPhone/iPad app. The iPad app especially is a great reading experience, but I've used it for over a year on my iPhone, and find it a very, very easy way to consume text.

But wait, as they say...there's more! In addition to the iPhone/iPad app, Instapaper integrates with a large number of other Apps, especially feed readers like NetNewsWire, Newsrack, and Reeder as well as Twitter applications like Tweetie and Twitterific (among others) support Instapaper integration. See something in your feeds that you want to read later? See a tweet from someone with a link to an article that you want to follow up on? One click, and it's saved to your Instapaper account. Even better is that Instapaper works with eReaders...it will automatically email your articles on a schedule that you devise directly to your Kindle. Or, it will provide you with a one-click conversion of ALL of your articles to an epub or mobi file that you can drop onto your eReader of choice. Failing having an eReader, it will even provide you with one-click conversion into a printable 2 or 3 column format at the font size of your choice.

I could go on about Instapaper all day. The flexibility that it gives you over your reading experience is unprecidented, and is a nod towards the way that I think text is most likely to be consumed in the future; flexibly and in the format most convenient at the moment.

If you haven't tried these tools, give them a chance. If you have an iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, you should definitely be using Instapaper, but any smartphone with a decent web browser will let you use it very smoothly. I think it will change the way that you read online.