Safari 5 Reader - a feature with a direct impact
On a day where the news from Apple focused on the iPhone 4 and new iOS features, the update to Safari 5 was almost an afterthought, so much so that the press release went out a couple of hours before the product itself was even available. Even the first iteration of the Safari page was improperly formatted.
There are a number of updates that went in to Safari 5, not the least of which is improved HTML 5 support. Though performance is reportedly better I have been unable to detect any improvement; benchmarking would be required to see it. The big user oriented feature that's been added is Reader, a view of certain web pages that eliminates all distractions (ads and visual distractions) that draw away from the material you want to read.
When viewing a web page that Safari determines contains an article, a Reader "button" appears in Safari's address bar:
Clicking that will present the web page in a simple, large scale Times font. Images embedded in the article are often included and if the article has a multi-page footer for navigating Reader will suck in all the pages, presenting you with a single, simply formatted view.
I tried this out on a number of different blogs and news sites and the results were great. Not only was it easier to focus on the content of the article it also allows me to print or e-mail the content to someone using that view.
I for one can't stand those animated ads with people dancing around or the bouncing balls trying to get me to see how low a bank's interest rate is. It's great to have a nicely done feature that allows me to pull out the meat of the content and I anticipate Reader will get a lot of use.
Can Reader change how sites are presented?
While add-ons like AdBlock for Firefox have supported this basic capability for many years, this is the first time a major web browser has presented this as a front and center feature. It will move the blocking of ads from a niche area leveraged by the technical minority to one used by a much larger percentage, especially if Internet Explorer and Firefox follow up with a similar feature.
The interesting part about all of this is how it will impact the economics of the web. Many of the more popular web sites support their content through ad revenues, many on an impression model. When a person visits a site the web server will still count the ad as an impression. Initially this means that web sites that depend on ad revenue will not see a decrease in impressions so they'll be safe. Just not for long.
Over time advertisers will see disturbing trends: while they are getting the same number of impressions as before, the conversion rates will begin to decline. Business models that count on revenues from ads with distracting content will struggle to survive.
In many ways this is no different than the popup wars of the last 10+ years. You may remember when not too long ago a visit to some web sites meant 2-3 popup browser windows appearing. Web browsers have all gotten significantly better at blocking popups and as a result most reputable web sites don't even bother trying to put them up.
If Reader becomes a big hit—which I believe it will—it may actually drive the design of many web sites. If a web site wants to maintain an advertising model they will need to present their content in such a way that a user doesn't quickly reach for the Reader button.
This of course won't happen overnight; it will take years before these changes to behavior have a direct impact. Smart folks have a tendency to see where things are headed and plan accordingly. Just a little FYI for those of you that have web sites that depend on ad revenue; those few high-dollar distracting ads you allow may be killing off your web site.
Isn't it ironic?
One of Apple's big pushes on the iPhone / iPad front is to create a highly useable ad supported model for "free" applications called iAd. So basically Apple has said "We think your web sites have a horrible ad model and presentation. We're giving people a way to avoid it". At the same time they are saying "We really know how to advertise. Here's a new way to do it."
At least they are consistent.