Readability and Macdrifter

March 06, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

A couple people have asked me about Readability for this site. I think it's great that people want to use something like Readability to support websites they like. I do not plan to join Readability for payments. I'm against the idea of someone creating an agency to represent people that never asked for it.1

I do not think they are being evil. I will, however, pose this scenario to consider:

If you like Readability, Instapaper and Read It Later, you should send me a regular payment and I will donate 70% back to those services.

Does that sound fair? Probably not. I have no right to declare myself as an agent for those services. A reasonable person would choose to support those services directly.

I suggest the same for the sites you like. Most of them will accept something akin to donations. If they don't, then visit their page to give them more views for advertisers. If their site is too offensively designed or laden with obtrusive ads then don't visit but don't feel guilty about using something like Instapaper.

Reader Guilt

I've spent many hours designing and tweaking this site. I design it to be something I want to look at. It's my diary of interests. I read my own site.

I also use Instapaper, A LOT. I don't feel guilty about it.

First off, to use Instapaper, I had to visit the site or read their feed. So they got a page view from me. For whatever that's worth.

Second, if a site is too hostile to read, I feel no guilt about not looking at it. They have chosen to abuse their readers in favor of their advertisers. There are good ways to do ads and bad ways. It's not hard to do it the good way.

People will defend poor site design with the argument that I shouldn't read the poorly designed page at all. That I'm "stealing" from them. This is an artificial argument. The internet is not an honor system. If you make something freely available you have little control over how it will be taken. If people like your original material but not your site, then you are doing it wrong.


I look at the Readability model and it offends me as a content producer. If I wanted an agent, I would ask for one. But it's more than that. Let me break down the hypothetical economics of it.

"You" pay $5 per month to Readability.

"You" save an article a day from 8 different sites. At the end of the month "you" have saved articles from 100 sites.

Readability gives $3.50 back to site owners at the end of the month.

"I" receive $0.03 from "you".

Sounds great, right? I got "free" money and you got a clear conscience. That's not how I see it.

If someone sent me $0.03 as a donation, I don't think I would find it flattering. Now what if I received $0.03 and a note that said, I don't care what your site looks like? I'd probably care even less about that opinion. Keep your $0.03 and consider what you would do with that money. Maybe after a decade you could buy a cup of coffee.

"But $0.03 x 1000 is $30. That's good money." I think that's an over estimation of the number of readers using readability. It's also not good money.

I recently opened an option to buy me a beer through this site and I was deeply impressed with the generosity of strangers. We all joke about trolls on the internet, but I can confidently say that there are some outrageously nice people reading this site. People really want to give back. There are enough people that value quality work, that there is no excuse to take shortcuts. Direct donations ensure quality. When someone gives me $3 directly, I feel a much greater obligation to go the extra few words. I don't think I would feel the same about advertiser dollars.2


But I also don't want to make a donation to every site I visit. I'm not Yahoo. I can't afford to throw away money without a plan. So what's an ethical reader to do? Don't worry about it. It's not your job to come up with their business model.

I read things. I link to pages. I share articles I like. I post helpful comments. I try to be nice. If I find myself returning again and again, I'll find a way to say thanks. I'm not so indifferent to hire someone else to say thanks for me.

  1. This will offend some. It will cheer others. It's my opinion and I'm not trying to be a jerk to get on Hacker News. I'm also not trying to make decisions for anyone else. This is about my site. 
  2. I don't really know though. I have no experience with that model and I'm horribly naive. There are plenty of sites that do great work and are supported by ads.