June 11, 2010

Online Reading Focus

Jacquie Henry and others have been talking a bit about a certain book that is pointing out things I've been saying all along.  I don't have a problem with digital tools, but I definitely think a balance needs to be struck.  Along with these discussions have come a few links to some great tools to help you focus as you read online.  I've been an avid user of Readability for some time and can highly recommend it.  I'd never heard of Instapaper until this week but it's a similar tool.

Readability takes a colorful and flashy site with all the links and ads and small type and makes it, well, readable.

Instapaper does the same thing, but ironically it's not for instant reading like Readability is.  It's for capturing something you find online to read at a later date, but with a similar clean, uncluttered format.

These posts, like Jacquie's, also point to a thought-provoking post by the author of the book, Nicholas Carr who posits that all the embedded linking online changes the way we read.  Now, he says, as we read through a typical online article or blog post, we have to make a decision every time we come to a link on whether to keep reading or to hop on over to the link.  He's not advocating losing links altogether, just putting them at the end of an article so the reader can focus on what they're reading and then check out the links at the end at  their leisure.  Laura Miller, the Salon book critic, tried out this very thing in her article of the book being so discussed.

I like this approach and believe I will adopt it from now on if you have no objections.

Check the links out for yourself, but do add Readability and Instapaper to your toolbar first, if you haven't already.  You'll be glad you did.

Jacquie Henry's wonderful post, Your Brain on Computers



Nicholas Carr's Experiments In Delinkification and his much-discussed book, The Shallows

Laura Miller's review of The Shallows with links at the end and an updated commentary she's written on this practice.

(image cc flickr)


Victoria said...

Links at the end make a lot of sense. I often get sidetracked and the flow of what the person was writing about gets interrupted.

Michael Taylor said...

I don't mind the hyperlinks. I see them just like an *. I can choose to read the link now or move on. I see the advantages of endnotes too.

Michael Taylor said...

I do like the idea of printing out sites in a much more easily read format. I have a family member who prints out online articles for me to read. They rarely are easy to read and frequently something that I've already read online.

Jim Randolph said...


I agree. They are like footnotes, but for some reason I like them at the end too. Like wikipedia. But printing out websites? I guess with Readability it'd be ok...

C.B. James said...

This is not something I thought about before. I can see the point. Embedded links do lead me astray when I read, typically in an informational article rather than in a review or blog post. Wikipedia is an excellent example of this. It's rare that I can make it through an entire article without jumping ship at least once to check out a link.

This is probably changing the way we read. But I suspect it's already too late to put this back in the bottle. I tell my students, when we study the development of movable type printing, that we are living through a similar revolution right now with the internet. How people read and what they read in 2020 won't be the same as it was in 2000. I'm not saying it will be better, or that it will be worse. Just that it won't be the same.

Jim Randolph said...


Not better or worse, but there is something to be said for concentrating on longer texts and the flow associated with that. I liked Steven Pinker's short essay in the NYT about this, though. He has a more clear-eyed take (like yourself).

But I do like the links at then end for some reason.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.