If Safari 5’s new Reader feature sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not a new idea.
The Readability bookmarklet has been doing a very similar thing for a year or so now, and of course works in many different browsers, not just Safari. Incidentally, Readability’s developers are delighted about Reader.
What both Reader and Readability have in common is that they champion the web user’s point of view. Their function is to strip out everything that appears around text content online, including (perhaps especially) all the advertising that pays for much of it. (If you’re reading this post in Safari 5, you can click the Reader button now to see exactly what I mean.)
So while part of me thinks it’s great to see Apple doing something for the people rather than for The Man, another part of me wonders what the big news organizations are going to make of this. They could easily ignore it while the functionality was limited to Readability – after all, only a tiny fraction of web users understand what bookmarklets are, let alone ever use them. So it remained a niche product.
But now that the feature is built into Safari, they might reconsider. Good ideas tend to spread from browser to browser, so if Reader is popular in Safari, how long before something similarly built-in appears in Firefox or Chrome? That would upset a lot of online publishers who’ve eschewed the paywall in favor of good old-fashioned advertising.
I have no idea of the technical feasibility of this, but will some of the big online publishers take steps to block Reader? Or will they perhaps take the hint, and re-design their web pages to make them easier to read without it?