Introducing the Readability Button Module for Drupal

Spend any significant amount of time reading long articles on the web and you get distracted. Distracted by sidebars and insets full of links and animated graphics, many of which are advertisements. Distracted by badly set typography. Distracted by "next page" links at the bottom, forcing you to wait for the next part of the article to load as the publisher gets another increased statistic to sell. 

Enter Readability. Developed by Arc90 as an experiment, Readability started life as a bookmarklet and browser extension designed to improve the reading experience. In addition to decluttering distracting constituents of a web page, the bookmarklet offered a consistent look that stripped an article to its essential element, the text. After Arc90 released the bookmarklet as open source software, Apple's integrated the code into the Safari web browser. Subsequent to that the company changed direction with Readability in January of this year and started a web service for both website publishers and readers. While keeping the core service of simplifying articles for easier reading, with the new Readability, publishers of any type on the web — from magazines with multiple contributors to single editor blogs — can integrate Readbility into their website and optionally receive payments for their work from readers who sign up to contribute.

How Readability Payment Works

Publishers first must claim their website by adding a special code to the HTML header, which they can remove after verification. Using their own Readability accounts, readers can contribute a monthly fee that they, the readers, individually specify. (Publishers have no say what readers have to contribute, though Readability sets the monthly minimum at $5.) Readers' money first goes to Readability, who take a 30% cut. Readability then divides the remaining 70% amongst the publishers that readers, while logged into Readability, read through the service. As a simple example, let's say a reader only reads two online publications, The New Yorker and The Bygone Bureau. If a reader contributes $10 per month, and in the span of a month, uses Readability to read 6 articles from The New Yorker and 5 articles from The Bygone Bureau, Readability takes its $3 cut and The New Yorker gets $3.82 ($7 divided by 11 total articles, multiplied by 6 New Yorker articles) and The Bygone Bureau gets $3.18 ($7/11*5).

Readability buttons, as they appear on websites, typically offer the reader has the option to send the article to Readability and come back to it later ("Read Later") or immediately convert the article to Readability's simplified version ("Read Now"). Some tools that do 'read later' functionality, like Instapaper, can, after reading through the app, send the link to Readability so that it is counted towards the reader's monetary contribution.

Publishers do not need to claim their website or receive any payment in order for readers to use the part of Readability that converts article to pleasant-looking text, nor do readers need to pay Readability to convert distracting pages. The publisher-contributor model constitutes a new way for publishers and writers to make a few bucks on their creation and for readers to keep good writing coming without have to put up with (as many) advertisements. One publisher confided in me that "nobody's getting rich off it," referring specifically to Readability, but Readability at leasts represents an opportunity for innovation in the ways publishers, writers and readers interact and support each other.

Readabilty Button for Drupal

Screenshot of a Readability 'Read Now | Later' button on an example node in Drupal

Since I work primarily with the content management system Drupal, and wanted the functionality not only for my site but for other Drupal sites, I've developed a module called Readability Button. "Without this module, site maintainers would have to edit their theme directly, introducing code that they need to maintain. Instead, they can turn on the module and change settings, and if they want to discontinue Readability integration, can simply disable the module. Readability Button features the following:

  • Enable the button on a per-content type basis. Also a permission to show the button on nodes to certain roles.
  • In the module configuration, temporarily add the verification string (the full element provided by the Readability web service) without editing your theme. You can disable this after you've verified your domain.
  • Configure whether to show only on the individual node view or also on lists (such as the blog page or taxonomy views).
  • Optional Print, Email, "Send to Kindle" buttons.
  • Modify the colours of the foreground and background using hexadecimal colour codes. Optional integration with jQuery Colorpicker.
  • Change the orientation of the button from horizontal to vertical.
  • If a reader is logged into their Readability reader account, and the reader is a contributor, clicking the button sends a portion of their contribution to the site's publisher.

If you add the module to your Drupal site, I encourage you to make a feature request and submit bug reports in the issue queue.

Imagining a 2.0 branch

The module as described as above has some limitations:

  • Once you add it to a content type, all nodes of that content type receive buttons, no matter how short
  • If you allow the button on lists, it appears on all lists. that includes views, taxonomy term pages, blogs, etc.
  • The weighting of the button is somewhat of a kludge

A 2.x branch of the module, which only exists in my head, comprises of the following features:

  • Make the Readability button a field in the Drupal 7 sense. This would enable many things for "free":

    • flexible placement of the field in content types, using the per-content type field settings
    • Views integration, meaning with any list you can override settings to show or hide the Readability button
  • Readability API integration, meaning authentication and management of your Readability publisher account for websites and reader accounts for site members
  • If the website uses the Domain Access module, then each site could conceivably have its own 'domain' in Readability as well. Imagine individual bloggers on a Drupal site as a publisher who gets the 70% cut from Readability

Beyond the Module

Just a Gwai Lo currently uses the Deco theme, and, in order for Readability to reliably convert my own website to the clutter-free text, I made some slight changes. In particular, I needed to ensure Readability correctly picks up on article titles and dates. Per Readability's recommendations to mark up articles in the hNews microformat, I've added an entry-title class to my

<

h2> tags, necessitating modifications to the theme's template.php and node.tpl.php files. I also added a element wrapped around the date for blog posts. The right way to do all of this would be to find a way to modify the theme elements in a module, though I think the only option available to me is to maintain a sub-theme.