Reading on the Web

Reading content on the web should be easier and more meaningful. Easier in the sense that often web design patterns and advertising concerns make it difficult for the consumer. Beyond UX, web content is inherently ephemeral and reading it is unlike reading a book, magazine, or newspaper. Often the reader will lose interest a few sentences in, or skim the article, or not even read it. Instead, they may just get the headline or tweeted clipping. Reading on the web can be more meaningful by:

  • Understanding the article in context. Who is this author and when was it written should be table stakes
  • Reading multiple sources on a topic in sequence.
  • Highlighting and annotating in page
  • Writing aggregated notes on the topic, ideally citing the author(s) in the notes.

No unified tool solves for the above, but several exist that solve parts:

  • Attribution: Zotero plugin can do this, often dependent on the material consumed
  • Topic queueing: many solutions exist for this Pocket, Instapaper, Safari Reading List, Chrome Reading List
  • Highlighting / Annotating: hypothes.is is the best I’ve found in the space with a browser extension. Some sites have specific annotation tools (Medium) but these are useless outside of that walled garden.
  • Writing with citations: Zotero is the best OSS, Papers is/was a great paid solution for academic papers
  • Quoting: Quoteback is a useful browser extension for storing text and embed quoting it in your writing with attribution

Jacob O’Bryant has observed that in addition to the issues above, there is also fragmentation across mediums: social media (Twitter), publishing services (Substack/Ghost), reading apps (Reader, Matter, etc.), and community platforms. He argues that RSS could be the connective tissue to bring these disparate channels together1. I am skeptical that business incentives would keep the channels from doing this.