Another Theory About Safari 5’s Reader Feature

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.

Effect of the Net on Institutions in the Coming Decade

On BoingBoing Cory points to a newly released survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. This is actually the fourth time this survey has been conducted.

At its heart are five questions.

The survey was targeted to some of the most interesting and prolific thinkers on these topics. In addition to summarizing the responses into simple scores, you can read through the attributed, free form comments in response to each question.

Respondents include, but aren’t limited to:

Clay Shirky, Esther Dyson, Doc Searls, Nicholas Carr, Susan Crawford, David Clark, Jamais Cascio, Peter Norvig, Craig Newmark, Hal Varian, Howard Rheingold, Andreas Kluth, Jeff Jarvis, Andy Oram, David Sifry, Marc Rotenberg, John Pike, Andrew Nachison, Anthony Townsend, Ethan Zuckerman, Stephen Downes, Rebecca MacKinnon, Jim Warren, Sandra Brahman, Seth Finkelstein, Jerry Berman, and Stewart Baker.

Eye Tracking as a Component of the Future of Reading

At Wired, Eliot Van Buskirk describes research demonstrated a few months back where eye tracking technology is used to bring some intriguing possiblities to the experience of reading. I think this is continuous with Clive Thompson’s thoughts on the future of reading. Eliot does an excellent job of teasing out both the potential and the pitfalls. Ultimately this suggests how electronic books, which I personally feel improve very little on their print cousins, might being start to open that gap a bit more.

Initially, I think capabilities that don’t require anything from the original author, like the skimming mode, are most likely to improve the appeal of reading electronic text. As much as implementers can keep that cost down, they’ll help avoid a re-tooling curve that could kill this particular venue.

As for implementations, I think this is something an open platform, like Android, could tackle quite easily. I am a bit concerned about the mention of Apple acquiring several key patents. I suppose the ultimate outcome of Apple’s current suit against HTC over some of the key patents in the smart phone space might foreshadow whether they are likely to try to tie up novel uses of gaze tracking as well.