Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Alternatives for the Readability Extension

Recently I had to say goodbye to two big comfy chairs. The first one was an actual chair that no longer had a spot in our house and had to get offered up as a “curb alert” on Craigslist. The second one was a digital comfy chair ... the wonderful Chrome web extension called Readability.

Readability is one of my favorite Chrome web extensions, and is always a "go to" I use when introducing teachers or students to the idea of extensions. Basically it is (was) a tool that cleans up a web page to make it easier to read, by removing ads, comments, and other unnecessary page elements, so all that is left is the content of the main article in an easy to read format. This is a powerful tool to help students of all ages with reading comprehension and focus. I have referenced Readability multiple times on this blog in previous posts (here, here, and here)

Back in September Readability announced that they would be shutting down their bookmarking services but “the vastly more popular Readability Parser API, which extracts article content from web pages, will continue to run and will improve." Unfortunately they seem to have changed their mind on that and have now edited their announcement to read “The Readability Parser API for developers will shut down December 10, 2016.” At the moment the extension is still working, but it sounds like that will stop in early December.

So if Readability is shutting down, what alternatives are available? Thankfully there are many other extensions that do the same task or some similar version of it. Below are 10 Chrome web extensions you may want to consider as options in place of Readability. I would encourage you to try these out to see which ones may be a good match for your students (and yourself) to help make the web more readable.


The Source Article

First, before we try out these Readability alternatives, we need a web page to clean up. For my example I am using an article from DOGOnews titled “Ants Trapped Inside Abandoned Nuclear Bunker Develop A Unique Society” at https://www.dogonews.com/2016/11/20/ants-trapped-inside-abandoned-nuclear-bunker-develop-a-unique-society.

We will try out each of these 10 extensions on this web article to see how they clean it up. Here is a screenshot of the original web page:



1) Just Read
Chrome Web Store link

Just Read is probably the closest match to Readability that I have found so far. Simply click on the extension and the webpage automatically gets cleaned up. If you want to make any changes, you can click the paintbrush icon in the top right to adjust font size, text color, background color, and more. When done, just click the big “X” in to top right corner to go back to the original website.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Just Read:



2) Notebook Web Clipper
Chrome Web Store link

Notebook Web Clipper is an easy second place right behind Just Read. To use the tool, simply click on the extension and choose “Clean View” from the bottom of the drop-down menu (you do not need to sign up for an account to do the webpage clean up.) You will now get a clean version of the article with just the title, text, and article images. To go back to the normal view, just click the “X” in the top right corner.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Notebook Web Clipper:



3) EasyReader
Chrome Web Store link

EasyReader is (ironically) a little more complicated than just a single click, but still does a good job. This extension does cleans up web pages, but only the part of the web page that you choose. When you activate the extension, you will see boxes on the page indicating different sections. Simply click on the section you want to read and a pop-out window will appear with that portion of the page cleaned up for easy reading. When done, click anywhere outside of the article to return to the original view.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with EasyReader:



4) Read Mode
Chrome Web Store link

Next on the list is Read Mode. When you click on the extension the page will reload in an easier to read format. It does remove the background, and it does simplify the font, but it does NOT remove other elements from the page. All the possibly distracting menus and comments and ads still show up, but are simply moved to the top and bottom of the page. As long as you do not mind scrolling down to get to the article you want to read, this is still a useful way to clean up the main text. To return to the original webpage, click the extension again.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Read Mode:



5) Boom!
Chrome Web Store link

Boom takes a little getting used to for cleaning up webpages. If you click the extension and then click on sections of the website, Boom will remove those sections as you click them. On the other hand if you want to save a section and clean it up, you have to press SHIFT when clicking on the article portion of the page. Similar to Read Mode, Boom does not really get rid of all of the extra elements, but instead puts them at the top and bottom of the page so you can focus better on the main article. Still though it takes a bit to remember to hold down the shift key when clicking, as I often forgot and accidentally deleted the article many times.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Boom:



6) Purify
Chrome Web Store link

Purify does a great job of cleaning up webpages, but adds an interesting twist. When you click on the extension the webpage will get cleaned up as usual. However, instead of letting you scroll down to view the new version of the page, Purify has you scroll to the right, as if you were flipping through the pages of an eBook. This works very well, but depending on the size of the pictures, some pages may end up with very little text on them. Additionally you can adjust the size of the font by clicking the “Aa” button in the bottom right corner. To exit the cleaned up view, just click the little “X” in the bottom right corner of the screen.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Purify:



7) Save to Pocket
Chrome Web Store link

Save to Pocket is a favorite extension of mine, but normally I use it to save articles and blog posts for later reading, However, it can actually be used to clean up a webpage as well. Unfortunately there are a few extra clicks to get this done, so other options mentioned above will be quicker and easier. However, if you would like to clean up pages with Pocket, here’s how… First, click the Save to Pocket extension, and from the drop-down menu click the “three dots” button and choose “Open Pocket”. This will open the Pocket website in a new tab with a list of your saved articles. Click on the article you just saved to view it in cleaned up format. You can also click the “Aa” button on the top right corner to change the font size and color scheme for the article.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Pocket:



8) Announcify
Chrome Web Store link

Announcify is really billed as a text-to-speech extension which will read webpages aloud for you (similar to SpeakIt! and other such extensions). However, it also cleans up the webpage while it is reading it aloud, so it could be considered an option. The only oddity, which you may find as a positive or negative, is that Announcify blurs out all of the text except for the paragraph currently being read. The student can click the forward and backwards arrows in the floating menu on the left to un-blur each paragraph in the article one at a time. This extra step may be confusing and time consuming.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Announcify:



9) BeeLine Reader
Chrome Web Store link

BeeLine reader is a really great extensions, that I would love to place higher on the list because of its functionality. However, the free version only allows you to convert five articles per day. For those five articles though, it works very well. Simply click the extension and the webpage will be reloaded in a cleaned up format. As a useful bonus, Beeline Reader also applies a color gradient to the page text to guide your eye from one line to the next. If you click the extension again, you can also adjust the color themes for the text and the background.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with BeeLine Reader:



10) Read&Write for Google Chrome
Chrome Web Store link

The last extension to cover is one of my favorites. I have mentioned Read&Write for Google Chrome many times in my blog posts as it is a tool with a multitude of functions. However, like BeeLine Reader it has a free version and a paid version. Unfortunately the option to clean up webpages is part of the paid version. As a teacher you can register to get the full version at no cost, but your school would have to buy licenses for your students to use the tool. To clean up a webpage, click the Read&Write extension and then click the “Simplify page” button on the right end of the toolbar. A new browser tab will now open with just the text of the article. As a bonus feature though, you can click the plus and minus buttons at the top to summarize the article and reduce its length.

Here is what the web page looks like when cleaned up with Read&Write for Google Chrome:



Conclusion

So if indeed Readability shuts down on December 10th, you now have 10 more Chrome extensions that may serve as replacements. These tools are valuable for our students to help them focus on what they are reading, and can even be a useful tool for teachers when doing projects like the “Google Docs Black Out” activity.

If you have suggestions for other Readability replacements, please share your ideas in the comments below. And if you are looking for a well-used, but very comfy reading chair, my old one is still at the end of the driveway free for the first taker (at least as of the writing of this post).



Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1

4 comments:

  1. Will any of these allow the teacher to "clean up" the web page and then share a link with the students? One of my teachers is looking for a way to post a link to ad-free articles on her blog for students to use independently as bell work?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Eric, I also really like the Evernote Webclipper https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/evernote-web-clipper/pioclpoplcdbaefihamjohnefbikjilc You can use a free evernote account and there are several options for articles. I don't use Evernote much, except for this option. Thanks for all of your great posts :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Eric!! Perfect timing on this!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you! I can't wait to try these out!

    ReplyDelete