I’ve been trying out Safari 5, most notably the Safari Reader feature. At this point I doubt I will be switching away from my preferred browser, Chrome, but Safari Reader does make it more than a bit tempting.

I find that Safari Reader works remarkably well for article reading, especially on sites such as Ars Technica where there is no way to request multi-page articles as single pages without paying for a subscription. Unlike Readability, which just renders the page you’re on, Safari Reader will actually detect the multiple pages of the article and display them all together at once.

Ken Fisher, Ars’s “Editor-in-Chief Imperator”, is not terribly pleased about that. Fisher, who wrote a previous article scolding people who use ad-blockers for taking ad revenue away from the site, sees this as part of a devious plan by Apple to move content away from the open web, which it cannot monetize, to apps on the iPad and iPhone, which it can.

There is something contradictory—some might say hypocritical—in Apple’s actions. At the same time someone in Cupertino is building a completely unblockable ad platform for the iPhone and the iPad, someone else is working on ad supression tools for that big open Web that Apple supposedly loves so much. At the same time that Apple is touting HTML 5 as the best way to make "emotional" advertising on both the Web and in the App Store, it’s calling Web advertising "annoying" and giving us tools to block it, but only when Apple isn’t getting a cut. And something tells me that an iAds blocker is not going to be approved for the App Store any time soon.

Although this feature is currently limited to Safari, Fisher notes, given the way that browsers tend to copy features from each other, he expects it to spread to other browsers with greater market shares sooner or later. And while it’s not so bad for single-page articles, since the advertising is already loaded before the user clicks the “Reader” button, it takes away the additional revenue that would have come from clicking through multiple pages.

It is really interesting to me to see this movement on the part of a browser-maker. As far as I know, this is the first official browser in quite some time (if not ever) to incorporate ad-blocking technology of any kind directly into the browser itself. There are plenty of ad-blocking plug-ins for other browsers, but the coders of the browsers themselves at least have plausible deniability. Now Apple is actively pushing the ability to dispense with advertising (at least in some ways) out to every user of Safari. Will other browsers be far behind?

In an interesting side note, it turns out there’s a reason that Safari Reader looks very similar to Arc90’s Readability—Apple actually used the Apache-licensed Readability source code in crafting its Safari Reader interface. It does remove some features from Readability, such as the ability to customize font, size, and margins, but it does add the ability to scoop all pages at once of a multi-page article.

Even though Apple used Arc90’s code in Readability, and mentioned it in their license documentation under Help –> Acknowledgements, they never directly told Arc90 about it. So while Arc90 initially praised the new Safari for adding a very similar feature to Readability, only later did they discover it actually used their own code.

Related: Apple’s Safari Reader–The Missing Link for Online Reading?


  1. As an attorney, I immediately wonder about this feature. I love Safari Reader but, good grief, how is it not creating and publishing an unlicensed derivative work? I guess one might argue that copyright subsists only the text of the actual article and not in the entire page, but that’s just silly. On the internet, presentation is enormously important and many people make many dollars designing that presentation, which includes text blocks, ads, comments, link lists, word clouds, etc. It seems elementary to me that, although copyright certainly subsists in the text of an article, it also subsists in the entire page on which that article is presented.

    Of course, Apple’s argument may be that it is merely providing the code through which an end-user may choose to create an unlicensed derivative work. I can only say I well remember how a similar argument fared for Napster. In my view, Safari Reader may wind up creating an enormous legal headache for Apple. I cannot imagine these issues won’t be threshed out in federal court. It strikes me as a fit subject of class litigation.

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