Sunday, April 24, 2011

No more ugly makeup !

John Cowan has pointed out a "bookmark resource" for tarting down the websites I complained about in my last post. As he explains here:
The Readability bookmarklet helps a lot with pages like that. Go to this webpage and drag the "Read Now" button to your browser's bookmarks bar. Then click on it whenever you want to make a page more easily readable. It deals with bad colors, annoying formats, etc.
People should take a look at Readability's FAQ, which answers the questions "What is Readability?" and "What happened to the free version of Readability?".

In short: the bookmark resource is "still free", and this is what it's all about:
We’re turning Readability into a monthly subscription service with a unique twist: the great majority of your fees (70%) will go directly to the writers and publishers you enjoy. We’re tethering a small, passive transaction to the reading decisions you make through the platform. You can even publicly share the top domains you’re enjoying through Readability. It’s a new type of badge: “I support these writers & publishers.”
In other words, this is another scheme to keep track of where you go with your browser - but only when you actually use the bookmark. Clicking it merely takes you to another website (Readability), and there is not even a cookie involved. Exactly the same happens when you point to any link. You'll have to decide if you want to live with that. It seems reasonable enough to me.

The make-it-more-readable feature appears to work as follows (I've inspected the page sources, but am not a browser/javascript expert):

1. Let's say you are positioned on some web page "" in your browser. That is, the "page frame" showing the contents of that page is in the foreground of your browser.

2. You click on the "Read now" bookmark. This is a "widget" containing javascript activated by your click.

3. The bookmark javascript is called with the "" address as parameter, causing the browser to call another piece of javascript at This other javascript technically reads the HTML page at the parameter value "" (the stuff which your browser had rendered in the original, hard-to-read form). It converts that original page into a "more readable" HTML page at, which is then the final page that is actually rendered in your browser (no longer the one at "").

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Relatively speaking

Recently, a commenter on a blog post at another site complained bitterly that he could not read the yellow-mauve-and-white-on-black presentation of a web page to which the post had linked. I myself could make out the text, but reading it was hard on the eyes. There are a lot of websites in the internet that are tarted up in this way.

One could speculate about the motives of the authors of such websites, and whether they are at all aware that there are "accessibility" aspects to web design. But over time I have found it more efficient and productive to take unreadable things at face value, and simply not read them. Given the amount of text in the world that is clamoring for attention, I rejoice at every badly designed website I encounter, and every badly written book - in each case one less thing to deal with !

It is an extravagance to posit that there must be substance behind appearances. The principle I apply here is: if less is more, than nothing is most to be desired. In terms of biological evolution, rejection is just the flip side of selection, but it's algorithmically simpler. How to weigh the criteria for selection from a large set of alternatives is a difficult problem, and requires goal-directed intelligence. In contrast, all you need to reject something is a garbage can (in case you need it later on after all).