I often read relatively long news articles or essays online, from blogs and from the websites of newspapers and magazines, and I am a big fan of readability. Clicking on the previous link takes you to a page where you choose the page width and font size and type that you prefer, and you get a button that you can drag to the link toolbar of your browser. Instead of being a link, however, it’s a javascript application that, when clicked on, clears up the page you are reading of all the junk. Only the text and (quite impressively) the right pictures stay. If your article spans multiple pages, and you need to click to advance to the next page, the application is usually able to collect all the pages together. Try it on an article in the New York Times web site, and be in awe as all the clutter disappears, or try it on a post in the complexity blog, and get away from the green background and from the comments.

Of course, for all I know, the application also collects all your passwords and sends them to a server in Russia, but I doubt it. Talking about losing all your password, I was shocked when I realized that, in Firefox, if you go to Preferences->Security->Saved Passwords, it gives you an option to show all the saved passwords in the clear. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which this would be a useful feature, and I can certainly imagine a lot of circumstances in which this is a terrible thing. If you “set a master password,” then it won’t show the saved passwords unless one enter the master password, but then one has to also enter the master password all the time, defying the purpose of saving passwords in the browser in the first place.

I found out about readability from instapaper, which I also like very much, but that requires some set up (signing up, downloading the iphone app) and makes sense only if one reads long online articles fairly often, while I think that readability is useful for everybody. Readability is also available as a Firefox add-on, but I much prefer the simplicity of dragging a button from their site to the toolbar.

12 thoughts on “Readability

  1. Very cute. It’s a keeper for me.

    Although it is appealing to lose all the comments from the complexity blog, it keeps the comments and loses the main post on metafilter. I suspect that both behaviors should really be considered as bugs.

  2. Readability looks excellent. Thank you!

    Regarding the passwords, I only use the browser to store insecure passwords, those that I wouldn’t mind if someone else knew. It’s got to be true that for the browser to send them to a web site, they have to stored in the clear, so to speak, right? So they’re going to be visible–it’s just a question of whether they’re easily or slightly less easily visible.

    You might want to check out the add-on 1Password. The passwords are not stored in the clear, and so of course you need to type a master password to access them, but there is some time limit built in, so you typically need to enter it once per session. This way, even if you lose your laptop, you don’t have to worry about your bank password being accessible.

  3. I also use Firefox’s password manager (with a master password of course). Firefox asks for the master password only once per session so you don’t need to type it all the time, and the feature to show the password in plain text is very useful, I keep lots of password in Firefox and sometimes I need to enter the password on some other device like my smartphone or in a chrome page, I can check the password when I don’t remember it. For security reasons, Firefox asks you to enter the master password every time you want to see them in clear text.

  4. I’ve used the clear password feature to remind me a password I used for a site when I need it to use it on, say, my iPhone. Saves going through the saved data on disk to recover it.

  5. hi,
    have you tried IReader? It’s an extension available for chrome and firefox

  6. Not only will Firefox display them for you in the clear but it will actually store them on your hard drive in the clear unless you use a master password. This imight be even worse than having them visible when you log in securely. The point of the master password is to avoid having to remember lots of passwords not to avoid entering some password.

    You could use the same password for lots of sites (like a master password) hen, you can remember it easily but a flaw in one site can compromise all of them. Doing it in your own browser instead at least adds an extra measure of control.

    The silly part is Firefox offering to store them for you in the clear. It makes sense if it is the password to, say, read the NY TImes online (which required a registration password but only used a cookie afterwards). However, I’ve noticed that sites that I have initially accessed non-commerically later changed their behavior to involve commerical interaction. it would be nice to have both features available clearly marked: f Firefox warned that saving passwords without a master password was compeltely insecure and gave one the option to have both kinds of password saving at the same time then it would be OK.

  7. I too am concerned that it is difficult to vet an extension for security. Extensions want to be updated often, and conceivably the owner could swap in a malicious copy 1% of the time without anyone ever knowing.

    I’m more sanguine about this bookmarklet though. Bookmarklets run in the context of the webpage. This means that when you use it on a New York Times article, it can read or transmit any data from/to the same origin (, but it can’t read the things you type on any other origin. You can read the HTML 5 spec for the details, but that’s the basic idea. So the bookmarklet could run a keylogger or steal my session on, but it won’t affect Gmail as long as I am judicious about where I click it.

    Furthermore, to their credit, the creators of this particular script did not obfuscate the source, so that a paranoid user can read the source and then copy it to his own secure server (so that it will never be replaced with something malicious). Full peace of mind is possible.

  8. It looks like readability has a messy behaviour when handling latex in wordpress.

    Moreover, when printing, pictures may be split on two different pages.

    It would be nice to have a script translating a wordpress+latex post into a pdf (or tex) file.

  9. As a result of your post I looked up some reviews of Readablity online. One of them compared it with Safari’s Reader. I’ve got a Mac, and now for the first time in my life I know what happens if I click on that little “Reader” button that’s been there, seemingly irrelevantly, for years. It seems to do something very similar to what you describe. So thanks for indirectly pointing it out.

  10. @carcar: if you select “print” while reading a wordpress post containing latex (or any post), and then select the “save as pdf” option (which is standard in os x and that either exists in windows or can be simulated by installing a fake “pdf printer”), then you produce a pdf file with a “readable” format, without the sidebar links

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