The web's reading platform.

Lost Art, Rediscovered

It’s encouraging that the word longform has been reclaimed by online audiences the past few years, but also strange. Strange because many people never considered lengthy, thoughtful writing to be an exotic lost art. Meanwhile others have been been lulled into believing longform can’t coexist with the re-mashed, attention-deficit writing that the web tends to foster.

Two recent experiences at SXSW proved it can, and made me regret neglecting longform in the first place: one was seeing the excellent “The Death of the Death of Longform Journalism” panel and the other was seeing Page One, a documentary about the New York Times’ struggle to adapt. Both reminded me that there are smart, optimistic audiences for whom longform never left.

iPhone and magazinesFor me, using Readability has been about rediscovery. The love I had in college for both rock journalism and personal memoir came alive again after reading this piece in Salon. My weird fascination with Scientology kept me glued to this New Yorker article for nearly a week, reading the first third on my iPhone on the subway, second third on a bus, and final third in my dentist’s waiting room.

Just like the magazine writing that meant so much to me growing up, I realized there were other forms I had been neglecting—classic short fiction, poems, lyrics, transcriptions of speeches, even user-manuals for devices I’m exploring—simply because they weren’t portable enough.

Readability has changed all that. I haven’t read John Cheever’s The Swimmer in 15 years but this week I added it to my my reading list and read it on the subway. Soon I’ll re-read Lyndon’ Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” speech and my favorite David Berman poem. The Readability algorithm is smart enough it can slurp text from just about anywhere and you’ll always have it saved for later.

Since launch, it’s been exciting to watch what people are doing with the app. Like Twitter, Readability began with a single purpose but ultimately it’s the community who will shape it. It’s also been great to watch writers and curators spring up around their appreciation for journalism. We’re seeing longform redefine and rediscover itself at the same time readers are finding innovative ways to discover it.

Darren Hoyt is lead designer and front-end developer for Readability and other Arc90 projects. Follow him on Twitter.

2 Responses »

  1. So I find obnoxious advertising as problematic as the next web user. So I applaud Readability for working towards a solution.

    However, I’m not sure I like the implications of this. Journalists need to make money, and advertising is the way they do it, so whats going to feed these intrepid vigilantes of truth and press when Readability erases ad revenue?

    I get the feeling consumers will have to pay for content, not bad but some conflict of interest. Maybe corporations will sponsor journalists, nothing can go wrong there can it? Government run newspapers?

    So two questions:

    Are journalists really on board with this?

    What going to replace (realistically) current revenue models for blogs and newspapers?


  2. Hi, Paul. As we have said elsewhere, the reinvention of publishing will require many steps forward, both large and small. We believe Readability is one such step in the right direction: of reading on readers’ own terms.

    Readability was created to allow readers to contribute to the writing—and the writers and publishers—they most want to support, so our principles are baked right into the service. It’s also why we’re proud to count among our advisory board stalwarts from different corners of the publishing industry.

    I’d encourage you to peruse the press coverage we’ve received over the years—better yet, try reaching out to journalists you know and see what they have to say. We think it’s time to expand the conversation—and rethink the reader-writer relationship.