Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Readability Could Nullify The Naysay

Some people (notably John Gruber) believe Readability is overstepping their bounds by collecting money on a publisher's behalf. I disagree, but I can see the story from the other side as well (in the right context). However, I do believe Readability could do one simple thing to quell the critics—give publishers one more option.
Right now, publishers have three options...
  1. Do Nothing — This is obviously the simplest option, but if you don't want money collected in your name going to support Readability it's not an option for you.
  2. Opt Out — Fairly painless, and it will keep money from being collected in your name, but it will also stop readers from being able to view your content in their preferred format.
  3. Sign Up For Payments — This option will take a little extra effort on the publisher's part, and may not be worth the effort if your site isn't all that popular. It will, however, keep the money from going to Readability and will continue to allow readers to view your content in their preferred format.
What if Readability gave publishers a fourth option? The ability to donate the money collected in their name to the charity of their choice.
  • Publishers that have a beef with the service would then be sending the money collected in their name towards a cause they support.
  • It would be much faster/simpler than signing up for payment, and publishers shouldn't complain about being hassled because the time they spend setting things up will reflect positively on them.
  • It would encourage small publishers to get involved.
  • Readers wouldn't be punished because the publisher has a beef with Readability.
  • It would look extremely good to potential subscribers.
I couldn't imagine this simple suggestion being anything but a win-win solution to a pesky PR problem. Am I being naive?


  1. (Hello. I'm on the Readability team.)

    As a point of reference, here's the current Readability terms of service:

    One reason there's a 12-month cut-off for publishers that haven't signed up is pretty much exactly to be able to give it away and *not* to have it get stuck as in escrow for someone who will never come to collect it.

    It's unfortunate—but fair! skepticism is absolutely fair—that folks presume we would keep it, since we've been sluggish to bring the conversations we've had as a team into the public light.

    That's on us and that's on me, personally, as the community liaison. A publisher called Ben Brooks made some good suggestions which we've discussed a lot internally, but I think Ben thought he went unheard and that spiraled into an unfortunate belief that we're trying to pull a fast one.

    It's awesome that the conversations these past couple days have shined light on things we've thought about and also some we hadn't. All to say: we'd love to keep hearing what adjustments and improvements can be made for the benefit of readers and writers.

    And as a solely personal question about your suggestion, Zach: if you were a contributing subscriber, what organization would you most like to see receive donations in the spirit of supporting writing?

    1. Thanks for the reply! Personally, I wouldn't mind if Readability did indeed keep the unclaimed money as long as it went to supporting the service. You can check out my previous post (specifically the updated section) for my feelings on the matter. As far as my thoughts about donations go, I haven't really done much thinking about it. To me, I'd like the money to go to whatever charity (writing related or not) that the individual publishers wanted it to. It is their money after all. If you wanted the system to completely eliminate any required action from the publishers you could always just let each subscriber choose an organization from a list of a dozen or so organizations (one being Readability itself). That may even be a better solution than the one proposed above. It would alert subscribers to the fact that their money may not go to the publishers, but that they still have control over it.

      Either way, all you guys would need to do is issue a public survey asking for charities worthy of donation. Choose the most popular responses, and let users and/or publishers decide which one they prefer when they sign up.

      As a subscriber, I think you guys are doing great things. I'd choose to send the unclaimed money back to Readability. Keep up the good work!

    2. Thanks, Zach.

      Letting users and/or publishers decide sounds pretty good. There's a lot of 'em, so we also have to solve everything in way that can be built and managed, but certainly some kind of philanthropy should be part of the package. Thanks for sharing these ideas and thinking about it.