A view from Russell Davies, russell@russelldavies.com

Media Perspective: Why 'Readability' is loved by readers but hated by publishers

Phil Gyford is a very talented web developer who often builds projects just for himself, to scratch an itch or explore some ideas in the real world.

And, last week, he announced guardian.gyford.com, an experiment in news presentation that has created an interesting little stir.

It does a seemingly simple thing. It takes all the articles from the latest Guardian or Observer and presents each of them on a single page with the minimum of distracting clutter - just the occasional photo and an ad at the bottom. A big arrow takes you to the next article, otherwise all you're looking at is a nice big bit of clearly presented text running down the middle of the screen. It's a joy to read and it makes you realise how unevolved much of the web still is.

Because when you compare the average newspaper to the average news website, you realise how far we have to go in balancing ease of reading with the needs of commerce. Physical newspapers have evolved over decades to address that balance; designers and advertisers understand the spaces they operate in, readers understand the grammar of layout, we all know how the ads and the editorial work together. On the web, however, we are nowhere near a satisfactory blend. News sites are full of links, distraction and pointless additional pages, all designed to get you clicking rather than reading, hoping to attract a little bit more ad revenue. A perfectly understandable aim, but ultimately self-defeating.

So the web ecosystem is starting to push at the edges of the model, exploring alternatives that improve the reading experience. One of which, appropriately, is called Readability. Install it in your browser and, when you get to a page you actually want to read, simply click on it to see all the gubbins removed. All the ads and blinking links disappear and you're left with some gorgeous black text against a clean white page.

Lots of people love Readability. And lots of people who depend on web advertising revenue absolutely hate it. All of which would be the nerdy concerns of a geeky clique if Apple hadn't just used the open-source Readability code to build the same functionality into the latest version of its Safari browser. And Readability is getting great reviews. You can imagine it being a feature in every browser before long, leaving web publishers struggling even harder to get money for their content.

There are no easy answers to this conundrum. People want readable content and developers will find ways to give it to them. Publishers need to get paid, and advertising has long been the answer. Will it always be so? It's looking less likely every day. Unfortunately, however, each alternative looks equally unlikely.

Topics