Instapaper and Readability restore the pleasure of online reading

It would probably be better not to say anything. Advertisers won’t like it, and publishers who depend on ad revenue will like it even less. If this sort of thing catches on, there are only two possible endings, and they’re both bad.

I’m talking about two services that rescue online content from the twisted carnival of banner ads and assorted noise, and restore the pleasure of reading on the web. I’m talking about Instapaper and Readability.

With one click of a bookmarklet, Readability can turn this…

into this…

Instapaper does the same thing, but for stuff you want to read later. You just click a little “Read Later” bookmarklet, and the item is saved to a kind of to-do list. When you click the item in your list (or tap it, in the Instapaper iPhone or iPad app), it’s presented to you in its clean and simple glory, stripped of ads, navigation, related links, and anything else that might distract or annoy you:

But this is a bubble. A reading bubble. Most online publishers depend on the revenue they get from people eyeballing (and clicking, I assume, although who does that?) the banner ads. If services like Instapaper and Readability catch on, then there are two ways it can end.

The first possibility is a kind of arms race, where publishers find ways to prevent their content from being accessible in apps like Instapaper and Readability, then the apps find ways to work around the preventions, and so on. In this story, the best you can ultimately hope for is something like what has happened with RSS readers. Most big publishers only allow excerpts of their content to appear in the RSS feeds, and readers must visit the publisher’s website to read the whole thing.

The second possibility is some kind of advertising compromise built into Readability and Instapaper – maybe toned down ads that look more like sponsored text links?

So like any other bubble, enjoy this one while it lasts.