Instapaper and Readability Come Out of Their Shells

The New York Times’s Gadgetwise blog notes today that the online reading services Readability and Instapaper are both undergoing curious transitions.

Readability was originally launched as a browser plug-in that stripped web pages of distracting links and ads and left only text on a white page. Last month, it released a new version that sounds more like the Kachingle model than anything else: a micropayment system that lets readers donate whatever they choose, 70 percent of which will go to the publishers. Readability’s mobile app was rejected by Apple, though, so readers who have been spoiled by the one-click iTunes store will have to do some slightly annoying maneuvering to download it.

According to the Readability blog, it’s also beginning to incorporate a logo button directly on publishers’ websites, which is more direct, and better publicity, than a browser bookmark; The New York Review of Books seems to be the first to try it out. Readability: 1, Kachingle: 0. (Side note: Kachingle’s model gives the participating publisher 85 percent of reader donations, compared to Readability’s 70 percent.)

Instapaper, which released its version 3.0 earlier this month, has also undergone some interesting format changes. It hass expanded its capability to allow for full web browsing within the app, for one. It also added a function that invites readers to share links with their (Facebook, Twitter, or regular old e-mail) friends. “Instapaper is now social! (Don’t worry, it’s tasteful and optional),” declares the Instapaper blog.

The Times’s Joshua Brustein muses today on about these changes:

[T]he features work fine, but they seem to fly in the face of what Instapaper was designed to do. Instapaper’s appeal was how it let you read when you weren’t browsing the Web. Adding the Web back in seems to defeat the app’s purpose.

Perhaps Instapaper knows that today’s readers don’t really know what they want: we say we want to be rid of web- and friend-based distractions, but can we really cut themselves off for that long? Is the knee-jerk desire—to “Like” something we like—so ingrained at this point that we can’t let go and just read?

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner Tags: , , , ,