Readability has become subject to an extraordinary amount of vehement disgust at the hands of contemporary Internet writers. Evidently exhausted by Readability’s numerous attempts to monetize and advance the end-user-driven reading experience, writers have been increasingly speaking out against the service’s leadership, goals, and, indeed, its very existence.
From my perspective, such perspectives are largely steeped in extremism and are accordingly unfair indictments of the service’s goals.
Simply put, the nature of writing on the Internet is in a loose state of flux. Bobbing between several manners of revenue-generation and means for presentation, modern weblogs are well-designed, well-written, and well-kept, but very few seek to contribute to the ongoing discussion concerning reading online. The vast majority simply present writing in a unique fashion, allow for a number of methods to share articles and features, and accommodate simplistic read-later services.
Although such measures may well be enough for some writers, it is thoroughly documented that larger media organizations are struggling to exist within the Internet content vacuum. In other words, the discussion concerning the monetization of content simply must proceed unabated as the struggles of larger organizations are likely indicative of the troubles smaller fish will come upon in future.
Regardless of Readability’s various flaws, Arc 90 has contributed something measurably new to the debate concerning content monetization. Perhaps the experiment failed, broached copyright, and any number of other touchy buzz-words, but the service unquestionably furthered the discussion. Dialectic discussion is the foundation of the Western socio-political environment, insofar as it allows for two ideas to compete in debate, and for compromise to be made. As long as this process continues, change and improvement can be facilitated.
If, at this juncture, the immediate question that comes to mind is “Why should it change whatsoever?” then the point has been utterly lost. Sustaining the status quo and conservatively decrying user-facing improvements facilitates an unhealthy environment — one that shall be inevitably trampled beneath an impending rush of feet.
In the nineties, the music industry mindlessly deemed all agents of Internet-driven change as evil. Accordingly, the music industry lost its position in the intelligent discussion, appraisal, and establishment of its own future. As is well-publicized, such actions were costly and endlessly damaging to the artists the end-user held so dearly. Years later, the industry is slowly coming back on track, although Hollywood and many larger conglomerates still seek to perpetuate the archaic attitudes of conservatism and fear with regard to the Internet.
Readability and Arc 90 may have made some mistakes, but they also non-aggressively contributed to the discussion and appraisal of the state of reading online. As the end-user increasingly demands the consumption of content on his or her own terms, Readability explored the space in novel and — perhaps — misguided ways. For all of the ill-perceived damage their actions have caused, however, I tend to regard them with a quiet sense of respect for their experimentation.
One of Readability’s most blindingly aggressive opponents, Ben Brooks, once said: “A race to the bottom is occurring, yet I don’t want to stop writing, but I also am not willing to write for free.” Although I have publicly taken direct contention with this perspective, it strikes me as fascinating that Ben could so passionately judge Readability, despite the service’s best efforts to explore this precise matter.
No service or organization is perfect — each simply seeks to make an impact upon the market of which it is a part. Readability is certainly not without its own flaws, but that is not to say that it is deserving of childish and repeated judgment at the hand of the people it is seeking to aid.
Reading on the Internet is changing and we — as writers and readers — must stop stubbornly ignoring such a fact, and explore our collective options. Each large organization seems to be trying something different — be it paywalls, RSS sponsorships, or simplistic click-driven traffic — but few are working in concert with each other to answer the larger questions at hand.
Without approaching this topic with logic, reason, and a readiness to debate, then we simply have no chance of perpetuating our sustained relevance as purveyors of the written word on the Internet.