Reading on the Web — Three Helpful Tools
Issue   |   Wed, 03/07/2012 - 01:44
Images courtesy of
Apps make reading on mobile devices much easier.

Reading written work in a web browser is old-fashioned. [No, it isn’t…] Saving an article for later requires storing the link or keeping the tab open, and sharing it requires pasting it into a text or an email. As articles update, we click through different sites and pages sorting out what’s new and what we’ve read, often running up against subscription walls or dead links. In short, it makes you want to just pick up a newspaper at Val.

And so, I present three helpful little tools to make digital reading a bit simpler:

1.) Instapaper/ReadItLater
Specialized sites like Instapaper and ReadItLater offer solutions for a few of our problems. These free services, as well as a few others, offer a web interface that will store flagged links for later consumption or even allow you to email them to friends. All that’s required is you make an account and log back into their interface. Instapaper even offers a little bookmark widget that, when clicked, adds the current page to your personalized to-read list.
That said, you still have to navigate through the old web sites to find your articles. That task might not pose a problem on a normal web browser, but it can get a little a frustrating on mobile devices. So these sites solve only one of our problems. Still, it’s not a bad idea for storing articles to read them later.

2.) Site Applications
Apps are the simple solution to easier reading on mobile devices, so long as a site has its own dedicated app. Firing up the New York Times mobile app is a heck of a lot easier than tapping through half a dozen links on their website. Articles are sorted in sections, and most apps have some sort of sharing option that plugs into your email or Facebook.
Of course, familiar users will point out that the New York Times app uses a subscription wall, limiting browsing for those who haven’t paid for mobile access. With print news readership and revenues in dire straits, many other sites have followed suit. In the web browser you can often circumvent these little barriers, but doing so becomes much harder in a controlled, application-specific environment. You still have to leap from app to app to process all your different site interests, and that’s assuming you find an app for all of them.

3.) RSS
RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summaries (RSS) are a little gaggle of web feed formats that sites can use to publish updated information. Subscribe to one RSS feed, and you’ll receive whatever comes down the pipe; subscribe to several, sort them in categories, and you’ve got yourself an a la carte periodical option. Rather than scroll around to your six favorite blogs, you can just tell them to drop new articles on your digital doorstep. Plus, almost any site out there has an RSS feed if you look around for it and most (including the Times) offer unlimited free access. There’s even one for the Valentine menu that’s updated each night.

I’ll be honest, these feeds aren’t a new thing: the first version of RSS was released in 1999. But reader programs, used to sort and process all these little subscriptions, are now available cross-platform and often for free. You can use Google Reader as an online interface, and synchronize subscriptions, reading records, saved articles and more across most RSS readers on any device. In the spare minutes between classes, I often fire up Reeder (the most popular iPhone RSS app) and flip through news articles or a few tech blogs. The app tracks what I’ve read so far and archives old stories, but saving one for later or sharing it takes a single tap. And when I open Google Reader back at home later, it knows what I’ve read earlier and what I’ve saved until now to read.