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Readability tweaks sharing feature in response to copyright theft accusations

Readability tweaks sharing feature in response to copyright theft accusations


Readability has changed the way its mobile apps share links in response to accusations of copyright infringement.

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Readability Android app (use this one)
Readability Android app (use this one)

Readability's changing how its sharing features work today, in response to criticism that the service doesn't properly attribute original sources. This morning AppAdvice accused Readability of "sinister behavior" regarding the way its apps for Android and iOS share links. In contrast to rival services, which share articles by way of a link to the original article, Readability's apps shared a link to a formatted article on its own servers, raising some interesting issues on attribution. Says AppAdvice:

"If viewing the article on their mobile devices, readers are presented with a formatted facsimile of the original content, and — though a small link of citation is provided — readers are not compelled to seek out or visit the original site. This approach neither drives traffic to the appropriate place nor properly cites the author's work, and it violates the inherent goodwill required of such service providers."

The site describes this behavior as "tantamount to content theft," and while we wouldn't go that far, it's safe to say it wasn't the best solution for an organization that began as an effort to divide profits fairly between publishers. We spoke with Readability CTO Chris Dary about the issue, and he told us that the behavior was a throwback from the early days of the service: Readability was first conceived as a simple way to reformat a page inside a browser to make it easier to read. Dary says that the built-in sharing platform gave the clear intent to share through Readability's "read now" page, rather than linking to the original site. "if you didn't intend that, you'd probably share the original link."

"We're now linking shared articles directly to the publisher's site."

As the service has grown and evolved over the years — especially with its recent mobile app launches — that intent has become less clear, making the original assumption inaccurate. The company has been working on a solution for this issue for some time, and plans to include a solution that will link to the "read now" page while correctly citing and linking to the original content. Until it implements the new system, Readability has changed its servers to redirect users to the original website.

While we would've preferred to see Readability externally link sites from the moment this issue arose, there's a good case for giving it the benefit of the doubt here. Wherever you stand on the issue, it's encouraging to see a small company admit its mistakes, and correct them so promptly. We've included Dary's complete statement below.

When someone shares a link from Readability, something we've thought a lot about is the intent of that person when sharing through Readability. Much of our traffic comes from "Read Now" use, which is the explicit action, "I want to clean this article up so I can read it".

In that scenario, it makes a lot of sense to be able to share something that has the capability of showing a Readable view. If you didn't intend that, you'd probably share the original link.

There're two problems with this however:

1. We've now grown far beyond just plain old "Read Now", and the intent of the user has become less clear. So making that assumption is probably less accurate, now.

2. There's a technical limitation to this. The best way on the desktop to handle this is to show a read bar, like we currently do. The original site gets a page impression, the user gets a sense of what they're looking at, and they still have the option to click into the readable view if they'd like to. That's easy. When it gets difficult is on devices. Frames work poorly at best, and users don't know how to use them.

For the past few weeks we've been exploring our options here. We've had intent to change this for a while, and we're still looking for something equivalent in mobile view to a readbar, that can provide the option of a reading view to users while still providing attribution to the source. We haven't found a solution yet.

It's a tough problem, but I want to be clear that we take this very seriously, and it's something we want to solve as elegantly as we try to solve everything else within our platform. We made an original choice to direct the user to the reading view on mobile devices because of our conception of user intent. Until we are able to come up with something more graceful for both the user and the publisher, we're now linking shared articles on devices directly to the publisher's site.