Slashdot links to a post by Jim Lynch with a different take on the new Reader feature in the just released Safari 5. I wrote previously about speculation over Apple’s motives in doing so, largely as a prod to get content publishers to favor the Apple online store to the open web. Those ideas, plus Apple’s deceptive HTML5 demo page, have pushed me down a line of thought that ends with the conclusion Apple today is acting much like Microsoft did during the original browser wars. They are adding interesting features that serve their own interests first, then might benefit their customers, and lastly have something to do with supporting truly open standards and interoperability.
What Lynch digs into is the idea that what Reader, and by implication its progenitor Readability, has done is to spark an arms race. He makes a good case that what is at least as likely as publishers flocking to Apple’s store is that they will figure out how to intentionally break Reader. Doing so will prevent users from hiding ads and other features related to a site’s ability to generate sustaining revenue. I think this is a highly plausible outcome, maybe more so than publishers leaving the open web in droves. In some ways it is potentially an even worse case than content flowing into a closed distribution channel. I cannot imagine the user experience sitting in the no man’s land between sites and the Safari developers will be at all pleasant.
I have to admire Lynch’s considered, personal response to the potential threat of Reader. As Ken Fisher in the Ars Technica piece I mentioned more optimistically suggested some might do, Lynch has responded to readers by trying to improve the reading experience of his site. He’s betting that doing so will still the urge to flip to the more ebook like experience of Reader. There’s a good laundry list of what he specifically changed and I hope he follows up. He seems very engaged with his audience, and potentially will have some interesting thoughts on if and how the changes help.