People don’t read. Wrong.
That’s what I say to myself every time I hear one of the “but people don’t read” arguments. People do. Sure, there is the tl;dr crowd, but the rest of us? We use Instapaper if we don’t have the time to finish, or pinboard, or some other bookmarking service. And most of the time, we really do go back and read the thing. My Instapaper account has a far shorter list of articles waiting for me than I have unread books in the house.
Lately I’m noticing a resurgence of reading online. I’m not sure what has sparked it. A fascination with a new form factor is no doubt part of the equation — using Flipboard makes a lot of web content more fun to read because it is an iPad app. It’s also more enjoyable because it is focused on the reading experience in a way that far too many websites are not.
One way to make “people don’t read” more accurate is to make it as difficult as possible for someone to read something on your site. First, shrink the font to an impossible to read at arms-length size. Then chop up content into pages, forcing a new page to load every two hundred words or so, so you can increase the number of page views where you serve up ads. Yes, make sure to liberally apply advertising: big obnoxious animated ads, ads that pop a box covering the content people came to see, little text ads sandwiched in between bits of real content, and my new favorite, ads that pop up in boxes when someone hovers over a link. Keep the real content to between two-thirds and one-half of the screen real estate. People won’t read if you make the experience terrible.
So there are all these new methods to make it less terrible, that make it fun, like Flipboard. Like Readability, which not only offers a vastly improved reading experience, but goes so far as to offer a different (and in my mind, more credible than most advertising) model for generating revenue from content published online.
There are so many tools to publish online — clearly we are all writers, of a sort — and yet I’m encouraged every time I see a new tool that makes it easy for people to publish on the web. Things like Posterous, which mainly relies on email to post stuff, meaning it’s accessible to anyone with an email account. Things like Pen, which is designed to let you publish “beautiful text based pages in seconds and share them with the world”.
Because the world that reads.