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Reading Apps: Readability. Instapaper. ReadItLater. Evernote.

ReadabilityReadability is a handy tool that takes an arti­cle or web post, cleans it up, as the name implies to improve its read­abil­ity, and dis­plays it for you in your browser. They also gather up arti­cles posted this way for you to read later, or to send to your Kindle. Aside from one-by-one view­ing of a cleaned up arti­cle, the ser­vice has required a $5 monthly fee. In the process, Readability shares rev­enue with the content-providing publisher.

There are sim­i­lar ser­vices, notably Instapaper and ReadItLater. Back in May, I wrote a blog entry com­par­ing these two. I have still be pass­ing back and forth between these two, lik­ing Instapaper’s inte­gra­tion with Readability, and lik­ing ReadItLater for the clean­li­ness and usabil­ity of its website.

Both Instapaper and ReadItLater have mobile apps. Both were inte­grated with the incred­i­bly pop­u­lar iPad app Flipboard. One dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Instapaper was a close inte­gra­tion with Readability.

On November 16th, Readability announced a free option, as well as the impend­ing release of apps for the iOS plat­forms (iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch). Here is a sum­mary of the new Readability freemium pric­ing model, with $5 a month get­ting the pre­mium plan:


Free users are lim­ited to 30 Reading List arti­cles and 30 Favorite arti­cles; Premium users have no lim­its, and also can Archive arti­cles, receive an auto­mated daily digest to their Kindle (over wi-fi, and thus with­out addi­tional costs from Amazon), and up to 70% of their monthly fee goes to authors and publishers.

The announce­ment led to a fairly pub­lic dis­cus­sion between Instapaper founder Marco Arment (The rela­tion­ship between Readability and Instapaper) and Readability found­ing part­ner Richard Ziade (Readability & Instapaper).

The space has got­ten quite crowded, in fact, since Apple added a sim­i­lar “Reading List” fea­ture to its Safari browser. And the day after Readability announced its new pric­ing model and forth­com­ing iOS apps, Evernote launched a sim­i­lar ser­vice, Clearly, as a Google Chrome app.

For me, ReadItLater has been the main appli­ca­tion I have used for this pur­pose, because of the crisp, clean, and I would even say, beau­ti­ful design of their web site and apps. While I use Evernote almost obses­sively, its ten­dency to grab every­thing, or inex­plic­a­ble web page ele­ments, has made it a frus­trat­ing experience.

Using ReadItLater, I have missed the Readability inte­gra­tion. Even with ReadItLater, I felt that Readability had a bet­ter interface.

With Readability going to the freemium model, I expect to use that more, and move away from Instapaper entirely. I will then be com­par­ing ReadItLater with Readability once the Readability iOS apps are released, and with Evernote Clearly in Google Chrome. Those promise to have a high design aspect, with high-quality fonts. And of course, while I steered clear of Readability when it only had a paid model, freemium (as Evernote can attest) has a qual­ity of draw­ing peo­ple in to get them hooked.

My sum­mary of the score­board at this point is:

  • ReadItLater — First to mar­ket, in 2007, with a great user inter­face design sense.Still a major player.
  • Instapaper — Second to mar­ket, in 2008. Clean, but not styl­ish. A lit­tle nerdy as far as the design goes. Possibly suf­fer­ing from a mor­tal blow from the one-two punch from Readability and Evernote this week.
  • Readability — Has the most beau­ti­ful design of the bunch. Set itself apart as with the com­bi­na­tion of gor­geous design and a paid model, pro­vid­ing a com­pen­sa­tion model for authors and pub­lish­ers to off­set what might be lost adver­tis­ing revenue.
  • Evernote — Promises much needed cleaner imports of arti­cles into its widely pop­u­lar “mem­ory” service.
  • Apple Safari — Handy, if you hap­pen to be in Safari on the OS X Lion or iOS 5, but I don’t think any­thing but diehards Apple fan­boys will use this as much as any of the oth­ers on the list get used.

[Updated on 13 December 2011 to cor­rect some inaccuracies.]

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