Readability’s inconsistencies


The necessary preamble

I’ve liked Readability since it was an experimental plug-in by arc90. I also appreciate their efforts to support online writing and, in general, what they’ve been doing so far for those who read and write on the Web. The experience I’ve had since installing their Readability iOS app has been frustrating and what I’m about to report is what happened to me in the past few days. Your mileage may indeed vary.

I usually don’t ‘read later’…

As I have already said before, I have reduced the need to ‘read things later’ to a minimum:

Defusing the Read It Later routine

I’m probably one of the few geeks around who doesn’t really use Instapaper. I have nothing against it, it’s just that it has never really found a place in my workflow, and it’s unlikely it’ll find one after I start my ‘bookmark reboot’. You see, come to think of it, the main factor that led to my bookmark bankruptcy is the ‘Read It Later’ routine: a lot of stuff I’ve bookmarked over the years was filed away for the purpose of reading it later. Let’s save this bit, it might come handy, it might be useful. What really happened is that 90% of the time I’ve never gone back to that bookmarked stuff. It’s been the same as if I filed it in a ‘Read It Never’ folder.

So, what have I been progressively doing? Reading things now. If I stumble on something interesting, chances are I’ll read it at once; as I said, the only things I really save for later are bits and pieces for reference in future articles.

However, in the past two months, I have been so extraordinarily busy that I had to temporarily resort to some kind of Read Later system. Safari and Reeder have been of help, the first with its Reading List feature, the second by letting me add articles to its favourites section (Starred items). Having opened a publisher’s account on Readability a few months ago, I thought I could also take advantage of their ‘read later’ service, and the release of their iOS app was at this point just the icing on the cake…

The rocky road to the Reading List

So I installed Readability for iOS right away, launched the app, admired the beautiful user interface, logged in my account, and this is what I got:

Checking for updates

I waited five minutes stuck at this screen before quitting the app. Then I tried the usual troubleshooting procedure I do in similar circumstances: quit the app for good (deleting its icon from the multitasking tray), relaunch, log out of my account, log in again. Nothing changed. I then deleted the app from my iPhone and reinstalled it. Nothing changed.

I thought that maybe that was happening because my Reading List was empty, so I added a few random articles using the Readability service in Reeder, or clicking on the Read Later label in those blogs which make use of Readability’s tools (mine does: see those labels over this article’s title?). After doing that, I went back to the Readability app, but I was still stuck at the ‘Checking for updates…’ screen.

Checking the Support section on Readability’s site, I noticed that problems with login were a known issue, so I decided to leave things be and wait for an app update. A few days later, version 1.0.1 was out, but nothing changed for me. I attempted to add an article to the Reading List from inside the iOS app itself, and this was the result:

Not available

I thought, How can an article not be available to add, when it’s really a plain article I’ve just opened in Mobile Safari? So I did another thing: I went back to Mobile Safari, went to Readability’s site and, as you may know, you enter their mobile-optimised page and have direct access to your Reading List. I entered my account credentials, added the article to the Reading List along with a few others, and there they were:

Readability on Safari

I also noticed another thing while I was there — that not one of the articles I had been adding using Reeder or the Read Later button on the sites themselves was appearing there. Those articles you see in the screenshot have been added using the ‘+’ button from inside Readability’s mobile site.

I was getting more baffled and oh so more frustrated by all these apparent inconsistencies. Having more important things to do, I decided to let the whole matter rest until some significant news would turn up. When, after some days, version 1.0.2 of the app was released, I got curious again. Maybe things will work this time, I thought, and gave it another go. After updating, I launched the app, entered my account login information and this dialogue box appeared:

Publisher account

It had never appeared at login before, and surely explains why I’d been having troubles with my Reading List. This is obviously a fix introduced in version 1.0.2, and had it been implemented properly from the beginning, I surely would not have lost all the time I lost to try to make things work.

But the more urgent question is: why the need for two separate accounts? Why have a separate Publisher account and a Reader account, when things could be easily (I presume! Perhaps it’s not easy) managed from a unified account accessing both publishing and reading tools? I don’t find it particularly intuitive or inviting, this way. It seems an unnecessary complication on Readability’s part. Isn’t keeping things simple part of their mission?

This feature separation also feels artificial because, as you can see in the other screenshot, I actually can add articles to my Reading List when authenticated with my Publisher account and when accessing Readability’s mobile site from my iPhone. (Although I can’t see those articles in any other way — i.e., they don’t appear in the Readability section inside Reeder).

I confess I’m rather disappointed by this kind of implementation. I hope in a future update Readability eliminates the need to have two separate accounts and straightens things out. I’ll still be using their tools for publishers, but for the ‘reading list’ part I’m back to using Safari and Reeder’s features for now.

The Author

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!