The web's reading platform.

A List Apart’s Best: A Special Summer Readlist

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Jeffrey Zeldman, founder and publisher of A List Apart magazine, announcing the release of a special Readlist to accompany their 356th issue.

A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. It started in 1997 as a digest-only mailing list (hence “A List Apart”), becoming a magazine “for people who make websites” in 1998, and a registered periodical (ISSN: 1534-0295) as soon as the Library of Congress realized “blogs” were publications, and publishing was publishing, whether in pixels or on paper. You see, we have had these conversations before.

Pardon my braggadocio, but in 15 years online, we have led the key movements in web design, UX, and web content; discovered and presented nearly all the important authors; and published most the definitive pieces in the industry’s history (along with plenty of others that were simply very good).

For our 356th issue—also the last issue helmed by departing editor-in-chief Krista Stevens—we set ourselves the task of selecting our favorite pieces from the preceding 355 issues. A Book Apart’s Mandy Brown and Jason Santa Maria helped me make the first pass through all the magazine’s prior content. Krista Stevens organized the material. I reorganized it and took a final pass, killing some children and bringing others onto the lifeboat.

The incomparable Kevin Cornell illustrated the resulting Summer Reading Issue; Jason Santa Maria colorized it; and then we were done. Or, almost.

This best-of-15-years collection deserved to be a book, and thanks to Readlists (and A List Apart staff producer Tim Murtaugh, who beat me to the punch), now it is one.

If Readlists did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. As the founder and publisher of A List Apart (and, coincidentally, as an advisor to Readability) I cannot think of a better consummation for ALA’s most important works than to find themselves joined in an epub, suitable for beach (or even home and office) reading. Thank you, Readability, for your creative bounty, and thank you, past and present A List Apart authors, editors, designers, and producers, for elevating the profession.

Jeffrey Zeldman
A List Apart

Faster, Smarter Readability Apps for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

Today we’re excited to announce the latest version of Readability for iOS. Version 1.1 may be a point release, but it packs a serious punch.

Top Reads and Longform Picks

We love finding new ways to help you discover killer content with real substance. With version 1.1, we’ve integrated two right into the app. Tap the main Reading List menu and you’ll get instant access to the new Top Reads feature, as well as featured picks from Longform.

The editorial team at Longform has already established a reputation for selecting some of the very best long form content on the Web. With this feature, we’re putting them to work for you right in the app.

And with Top Reads, we’re automatically surfacing the pieces Readability users are engaging with the most from across our entire platform. The team has done a lot of work under the hood to ensure Top Reads are pieces users are really committing to, not just whizzing by. The average time spent on a Top Reads piece is over 4 minutes, virtually unheard of in most online content circles. It’s engagement that goes beyond the pageview.

Innovative UI Tweaks

Version 1.1 for iOS introduces an elegant new pagination model: double-tap to scroll. Double-tapping within an article now scrolls it to your selection point automatically. It’s super simple and a delight to use. Also, handy time-to-read counts have been integrated throughout the app to help you select the next piece to dive into.

Performance, Performance, Performance

Version 1.1 is fast. Syncing is up to 8 times faster than before, depending on your flavor of iOS device. Our developers took advantage of the latest iOS software and hardware improvements to squeeze every drop of performance out of this release.

Getting it Right

We’re proud of the thought and care that goes into our products, and this release is no exception. A special thanks goes out to our partners at Teehan+Lax, who helped us pull together a truly rock-solid release for you. Enjoy, and if you have any thoughts or requests, please be sure to let us know!

An Exciting Addition To The Readability Team

From its earliest days, we’ve tried to find the very best talent for Readability. Above all else, we’ve sought minds that view Readability not only as an app but as a platform that touches many other apps and services, helping redefine the reading experience.

Today, we’re incredibly excited to announce a new product lead for Readability. David Sleight will be joining the team to help define and drive the Readability roadmap.

David SleightDavid’s been building products for the digital publishing space for well over a decade. He helped build some of the earliest web-based textbook experiments at Pearson Education, and went on to lead the Interactive Design team at BusinessWeek from 2005 to 2010. More recently he’s been advising content companies and startups on design, user experience, and front-end development through his own consultancy, Stuntbox, LLC. He’s also a muppet on Twitter and an occasional blogger.

As many of you know, Readability is more than just a product. It represents a larger vision about how reading and web content is evolving. We couldn’t be more excited to have David at the helm to not only help realize that vision but to help define it as well.

Please join us in welcoming him.

Alien Blue Adds Readability Integration

If you’re a redditor, you probably already know about Alien Blue, a fantastic reddit client for iOS devices. It allows you to browse your favorite subreddits on your iPhone or iPad with the polish and feel you’ve come to expect from top-tier iOS apps. We love it because the focus is on the content above all, with an emphasis on good, clear design.Screenshots of the normal web view and Readability view in Alien Blue

That’s why we’re excited to see Alien Blue’s new integration of Readability. When you tap through to an article in Alien Blue, you now have the option of seeing a cleaned up, mobilized view of the article. The result is a very pleasant reading experience that’s completely in line with Alien Blue’s intuitive, user-friendly approach.

The update is now available on iTunes. Check it out and give it a try!

Reeder 3 Released: A Great News Reader Gets Even Better

When it comes to the little touches, very few iOS apps come close to Reeder. It’s one of the most polished and thoughtfully designed Google Reader, Readability and now Fever clients around. Today marks the release of a brand new, re-imagined experience of Reeder for iPhone and it’s a beauty.

Reeder 3

Reeder has included full Readability integration for over a year now and we’re proud to be one of the flagship services of this new release. We could go on and on about all the little (and big!) touches that make this update stand out, but you really need to try it to appreciate it. Congratulations to Silvio Rizzi on what is undoubtedly one of the best news readers around.

If you haven’t tried Reeder yet, now’s a great time. It’s available on iTunes now.

An Important Announcement

Since Readability launched just over a year ago, we’ve continued to evolve. The team has built an incredible platform for reading, along with our own apps for iOS and Android. Readability has been integrated into Pulse, Reeder, Longform, and several other chart-topping apps. We’ve attracted millions of readers that are loyal to Readability and use the service every day.

And we’ve taken some chances. Run some experiments. Today, we’re announcing the end of one of those: As of June 30, 2012, Readability will no longer accept reader fees.

What We Were Trying To Accomplish

We’re passionate about building tools to help great content flourish online. That goes beyond tinkering with layouts and time-shifting text. That means figuring out alternatives to broken business models that no longer adequately support most writers and publishers.

Ad-based models continue to erode, and the online subscription programs of many commercial publishers have yet to take off. For publishing to have a healthy future, we need to find better ways of paying for the content we value. Readability’s publisher payment plan was one such attempt—the first of many, we hope.

Why It Didn’t Work

Two things needed to happen for the publisher payment plan to be a lasting success. One, a large group of readers needed to support writing through Readability. Two, a large group of publishers needed to accept that support.

The first part went well. Thousands of you agreed to spend $5 a month (and sometimes more). But the second part proved difficult. Reading behavior on the Web is incredibly fragmented. Nobody reads from just 15 or 20 sites a month. People read from hundreds of sites a month, creating a vast long tail of publishers.

And the great majority of those publishers never registered. Out of the millions—yes, millions—of domains that flowed through Readability, just over 2,000 registered to claim their money. As a result, most of the money we collected—over 90%—has gone unclaimed. As of today there’s nearly $150,000 in earmarked money sitting in a separate, untouched bank account.

What We’re Doing With the Unclaimed Money

We don’t want that money. It was meant to support writing. And the feedback we’ve gotten from our audience tells us that’s what they want it to do, too.

If you registered as a publisher with Readability, we’ll be sending you any remaining money your site has earned by July 31, 2012, regardless of amount. Just make sure your address is up to date on your publisher account page so we have a place to mail the check. (We’ll be emailing reminders to all our registered publishers, and setting aside funds so the ones we don’t have an address for can update their information and claim their money at any point in the future.)

If you haven’t already registered your domain with Readability, you have until July 15, 2012 to do so. We’d love to give that money to every domain in our logs automatically, but we need to verify site ownership to keep others from claiming your money. Readability’s publisher registration process includes some important steps that help us do that. Publishers can register here.

But what happens after that? What if we’re not able to get every dollar back into every deserving writer’s hands? We’re going to do the next best thing we can think of. All remaining money that was put aside to be claimed by domain owners will be given to non-profit organizations that speak to the spirit of supporting reading and writing. Today, we’re incredibly excited to announce our first two donation recipients:

  • 826 Valencia. We’re donating $50,000 to 826 Valencia. Since we started brainstorming about which organizations to donate to, 826 Valencia popped up within minutes. It’s an amazing organization that is dedicated to supporting students ages 6–18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. Congratulations to 826 Valencia.
  • Knowbility. We’re donating $50,000 to Knowbility. Ever since the Readability javascript bookmarklet was released in 2009, we’ve heard from countless readers with disabilities that Readability has made a huge difference for them. By simplifying the reading experience and bringing the main content forward, Readability has proven invaluable for people with blindness, low-vision and cognitive difficulties. Established in 1998, Knowbility’s mission speaks to those very same goals. Their aim is to raise awareness and train web professionals about why and how to make the online world fully accessible to all, including people with disabilities. Congratulations to Knowbility.

We’re thrilled to put the money from this experiment to use with these fantastic organizations, but the real gratitude should go to the subscribers who took the leap and contributed their money to the Readability vision of supporting reading and writing.

What Comes Next

We encourage everyone to read over the Policy Change FAQ and register your domains if you haven’t done so already.

I’ll also be on The Big Web Show with Jeffrey Zeldman today (June 13, 2012) at 3pm EST to talk about the policy change and answer questions. You can tune in here to listen in.

Ending the publisher payment system allows us to put our full energy behind making Readability incredible for all of our users. We’ll continue to work with publishers, just as we’ll continue to forge relationships with developers and writers and readers and everyone else that’s become a part of the Readability ecosystem. It’s been a hell of a first year. The next one will be even better.

Stay tuned.

Readability Now Available for the Nook Tablet

Since the early days, we’ve been fans of the Barnes & Noble NOOK devices. From the NOOK Simple Touch eReaders to the Android-powered NOOK tablet, Barnes & Noble has delivered a great family of devices for reading.

Today, we’re excited to announce the availability of Readability for the NOOK Tablet. It’s a free app that brings you the great reading experience everyone’s come to expect from Readability.Readability for NOOK TabletYou can access your reading list and read your saved pages even when you’re offline. The app brings gorgeous typography and a wide array of styling options to bring an amazing reading experience to your NOOK Tablet.

We’re excited to have Readability available for the NOOK Tablet. It’s great to bring together a great reading app with a great reading device. If you own a NOOK Tablet, there’s no reason to wait. Grab Readability today.

Create Mixtapes for Reading with Readlists

As we continue to get flooded with all sorts of stuff on the web, we’ve come to value the effort people put into sifting through, collecting and grouping together links that are worthwhile. Seasoned curators like Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, Jason Kottke and the Longform site and iPad app have made discovering stuff so much easier by doing the work of finding and elevating the absolute best of the web.

Today, in collaboration with the Arc90 Lab, we’re launching a tool that will make it easier for anyone to do that work. Introducing Readlists.

Readlists home page

What’s Readlists, you ask? Here’s the back-of-the-box description:

A Readlist is a mixtape for reading.

You take a group of links — articles, recipes, course materials, whatever — and Readlists bundles them into an e-book and send directly to your Kindle, iPad, or iPhone. Every Readlist is shareable on the web. You can even embed Readlists into your own blog or site, the same way you would a Youtube video.

With a Readability account, you can manage the Readlists that you create and keep a catalog for sharing with others. You can even share an edit URL so others can contribute to your list without any overhead.

The Readlists home page already features some great collections of articles from well-known writers like Anil Dash and Jeffrey Zeldman. We’ll be featuring various Readlists over time.

Above all else, Readlists is a tool for anyone. If you’re passionate about a particular topic or want an easier way to collect and share bundles of links, Readlists is designed to make your life easier. You’ll find an excellent primer on getting started with Readlists over on the Arc90 Lab.

Follow Readlists on Twitter to keep up on any news or updates. We hope you enjoy this powerful new tool for helping people collect and share links on the web.

Introducing Iris: A Big Leap Forward in Drawing Meaning from the Web

Today we’re incredibly proud to be launching the next generation of our content normalization engine, codenamed Iris. It’s live right now and you’ll start to see improved results as you use Readability over the next few weeks.

For the past year, while Readability’s adoption and growth accelerated, we began thinking about how we wanted the core engine to evolve. Iris is the culmination of months of learning, re-architecting, design and development.

The foundational principle behind Iris is this: information on the web today exists in myriad contexts—and the sphere of differing contexts is growing. Iris is designed to untangle the web content you want and bring it forward.

The Context of Content

Much of the Readability engine’s success is attributed to the fact that a large portion of the reading web happens to share a common context: the article. It’s what we’ve focused on to date and we’re very proud of the work we’ve done there.

Still, today’s web includes far more than the generic article. Wikipedia is not just an article. A forum thread is not an article. A YouTube video, of course, is not an article. Not even articles themselves are all created equal.

With Iris, we’ve built an engine that you might call abstract—inspired by IBM’s Watson, the machine that beat contestants on Jeopardy!, Iris’ first order of business is to figure what type of content source is at hand. It analyzes a page, determines the likely context based on a number of factors and extracts what a human would expect as meaningful information from that source. Each context is fully malleable, and can be modified and improved upon individually.

This results in a dramatically improved user experience across the myriad apps, services and tools built on Readability. Expect better results on all sites, even non-article pages on sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, Vimeo and many more.

A Richer Readability Experience

Once the content type is determined, there’s still the complex task of knowing precisely what to tease out of a web resource. Even web articles—Readability’s wheelhouse—are comprised of much more than just a headline and body text. With Iris, Readability gains the ability to glean a whole new level of insight into what facets of a web resource matters to readers and developers: titles and headlines. Subheadlines. Lead images. Videos. Excerpts. Authors. Languages. Captions. Beyond just a great end-user experience, Iris represents a powerful bridge to the new ways content is being consumed beyond the browser.

Faster Engine, Faster Improvement

Finally, we wanted an engine that evolves and improves as quickly as the web. Rather than tethering improvements to software updates, Iris enjoys an extensible framework that allows for improvement from week to week and day to day. Users and developers will immediately benefit from updates—whether introducing support for new content types or better targeting.

As an added benefit, Iris is also significantly faster than the previous iteration, as determining a context before parsing allows us to skip a lot of unnecessary work. We’ll be able to scale the platform more effectively now, and that means a better experience for our users.

Live Now

Readers will start to see the benefits of Iris starting today. Developers will start to see the new fields (currently “dek” (subhead), leading image URL, text direction, and better content distillation including image captions) immediately and those fields will be populated over the next couple of weeks as we bring new contexts online.

We’re incredibly excited about this step in our growth as a platform. We couldn’t have made such dramatic strides without the fantastic developers and partners we’ve had long conversations with about the value and diversity of the web. We’re happy to provide all we can for the network we’ve become a part of.

With Readability’s newfound flexibility, we’re now in an even better position to work with publishers and developers to make sure their content looks absolutely impeccable within Readability. If that sounds like you, please get in touch.

Happy reading!

Readability needs help with Community Support. Interested?

Readability is looking for a talented community support person to help us manage our passionate, growing userbase of readers, publishers, and developers. And where better to look than to our userbase itself?

As part of Arc90—a small, Manhattan firm of passionate, design–driven technologists—we each wear many hats. Designers who code, engineers who invent, managers who ship. Working on Readability mixes product support with R&D—we operate as a hybrid of startup and client work: deadlines are real and the pace is quick. Whatever your passions, we give you room to grow.

The day-to-day involves a lot of emails, a lot of chat, and a lot of information. On our support team, you’ll liaison between the developers, project lead, and the wonderful folks at CoSupport, who tackle much of the inbox and offer guidance and expertise. You’ll be learning how the gears turn while helping delight our customers by improving the experience of reading for everyone.

In terms of skillset, we’re looking for someone who is:

  • smart, motivated, organized and kind.
  • particularly interested in reading and writing, particularly on the web. If you’re a fan of and familiar with Readability already, that’s even better. You can play well the role of evangelist (along with the rest of us!)
  • a solid communicator, both written and verbal, and both technical and social. We need you to empathize with customers, write clearly, and effectively express patterns and technical issues to the team. Phrasing matters as much in our issues tracker as on Twitter.
  • eager to understand and advocate for community ideas. You’ll organize issues users are having and help the team to prioritize them with an eye for for both small bugs and the big picture. Be the voice of users in a design meeting, of developers when we plan the roadmap, of publishers when we look at our long-term goals. Crucial: common sense and an openness to ideas that are not your own.
  • comfortable with the web. You don’t need to be a coder, but you should know how the web works and love playing with new tools and software. You’ll look at a lot of web pages and it’s important to know (or be able to learn) the basics of how they work. HTML and CSS experience are a plus. If you know any XPath (gasp!), even better.
  • pattern-aware. You’ll need to learn where to look for answers and have a knack for seeing when something repeats.
  • able to advocate the brand without being a personality. Be comfortable on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else. There’s no room for egos and no need for fights.
  • living or willing to live in NYC or have a proven record of impeccable remote working. If you’re living in the United States, you are qualified to work here without sponsorship. (Sorry, we can’t currently sponsor H1–B candidates.)

It’d be a plus if you:

  • know how apps work on iOS and Android. Installing, uninstalling, troubleshooting.
  • are an Early-adopter. We do a lot of skunkworks-style playing around here, and admire someone motivated to look at what’s new.
  • blog or have some other experience writing. Strong writing is very important for this role.

Excited? Sound interesting? Feel free to drop us a line at icanhelp@readability.com and include a resume and a note about yourself and why this strikes you as a good opportunity. We don’t necessarily need someone who has a ton of experience managing a community. A smart, kind, organized person who loves reading and the web would be a great fit.