How to make reading online easier: Instapaper and Readability

Looking to improve reading online? Try the Readability app, which strips ads out of sight, and Instapaper, a great Web bookmarking tool.

By , / Staff writer

Even though the Internet provides more information, news, and prose than any library in history, people don't spend much time reading it. A 2008 study from the University of Hamburg found that online readers scan about 20 percent of the words on an average Web page. Our eyes don't really bother with the rest.

You can blame short attention spans, but don't ignore that reading online kinda stinks. Most websites are consciously designed to keep you clicking instead of digesting. The more you hop around, the more ads they can send your way.

So, short of wasting paper by printing out every interesting article you stumble upon, here are two ways to make online reading a painless, distraction-free experience.

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First, let's eliminate the interference. The Web app Readability is a one-click clutter killer. If a site insists on tiny type, blinking ads, or more compartments and sidebars than a Piet Mondrian painting, Readability throws out the excess. It temporarily reformats the page, leaving only the main body of text and any mingling images. The app even swaps in a new, easy-to-read font.

This free app lives as a button perched in the bookmarks tab atop your Web browser. Whenever you land on an offending site, give it a click and – poof! – the page cleans up its act. To get this feature, head to Readability's homepage – where you can customize which font and background color you prefer.

Now that the text is legible, here's a way to save that long, engrossing article for when you have time to really focus on it. Instapaper will bookmark Web pages. But rather than filing them away on a single PC or Mac, this handy utility allows you to access archived articles from almost any computer you own – even smart phones and Amazon Kindle e-book readers.

Instapaper runs basically the same way as Readability. It creates a button in your browser. Once clicked, the app will store the text in an online folder. This works wonders for pieces you find while at the office yet inevitability forget about by the time you make it home. You can install this simple function at instapaper.com.

Both programs work best in Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

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