I've noticed a number of people using reader on their iDevices while reading websites on the train, and I'll admit that it certainly makes the reading experience much less frustrating. Although there are some issues on Japanese websites where the actual content is not known to be content, it does solve the basic issues mobile users struggle with when visiting a website on something other than a full-sized computer running Windows XP with some ancient version of Internet Explorer installed. One of the biggest goals I had when designing this site was making sure that people would not feel the need to hit the "Reader" button in Safari and, despite the fact there is no easy way to know whether a person is hitting the button, this theme seems to have met the required goals.
Here is my site on an iPod Touch:
And here is the same article through Reader:
Aside from a cleaner font1 and the ability to change the font size2, the two are not very different. There are no advertisements on here, nor many places with complex formatting. All in all, everything is kept sweet and simple for the sake of easy reading. There is no plan to earn revenues via poor-performing and ugly banner ads or their worse-performing cousins, in-line links.
So with this sort of minimalism in mind, I've been thinking a bit about how the more popular sites around the web might go about earning advertising revenue without subjecting their readers to craptastic designs and poor-performing web sites, and the solution may be so old-school that nobody would want to do it.
Honest-to-Goodness (Paid) Reviews
Want to sell me on an app? Showing a banner with piss-poor display quality is not going to make me click. What will make me click, though, is a decent review outlining why the people on that site think people should invest time, money, or other resources into that product. This would not be as simple as the "set and forget" AdSense code that Google provides, which displays advertisements based on our history and the content of the page we're looking at, but it would most likely result in some better returns on those advertising dollars.
What if the product isn't good enough? Say so. It doesn't matter if the company is paying. A company that will not stand behind their product 100% is most likely not the kind of company anyone would want to waste their time with, anyways. Sure, this would hit the bottom line for a little bit, but the companies who truly believe they have a killer product would feel much better knowing that an honest positive review would result in a lot more sales.
So many of the online revenue models look like little more than lazy scams. Filling a site with advertisements from four providers will not (always) result in more clicks and higher revenues. Earning money requires work. A number of popular sites that make decent incomes through advertisements are clearly not averse to putting in some extra effort to win over a crowd, so why not take it one step further?
This is probably not going to happen anytime soon, but it would be nice if we could visit a website without feeling the need to parse that web page into another format just to make the readable content more readable.