Ben Brooks on Readlists

May 22nd, 2012

Ben Brooks doesn’t think Readability’s new service, Readlists, is kosher:

With Readlists you are essentially publicly sharing an eBook that contains a writer’s content — content that was never granted permission to be redistributed. In Instapaper (as far as I know) you can’t grab an article list from another user and package an eBook that you can then download.

This is where I call bullshit on Readlists.

Readlists allows people to group articles on the web together and send them together on a web page, or download the articles as an ebook.

I quite like the idea of being able to group articles or websites together. It could be useful for grouping must-read articles on subjects together for people. But I think Ben’s absolutely right about allowing people to download the articles—stripped of their context—as ebooks.

Arc90/Readability isn’t selling the ebooks, so they’re not profiting from it at least, but Readlists is effectively a distribution system for other people’s content, taken without their permission and distributed in a new medium. It allows people’s articles to spread wholly separate from the medium originally intended.

Services like Instapaper, Pocket and Readability walk a fine line. They exist so people can save and read articles later, but the mechanism they use to do so—grabbing the article’s content, but not the web page itself—effectively scrapes it. It’s very easy to cross over from saving articles for later to saving articles and distributing the content on your own, for your own purposes. Instapaper works hard to stay on the right side of this line. Articles are saved, but when sharing articles, a link to the original article is shared. Similarly, when articles that friends are reading show up in the Instapaper app, tapping on them brings users to the web page itself, rather than the stripped-and-saved version on Instapaper’s servers. This is to make sure that Instapaper both fulfills its function but also benefits websites, and it’s the right thing to do.

Readlists crosses over that line rather aggressively. Articles may be attributed within the ebook, but Arc90/Readability is distributing the stripped article in their own medium. The original website—the creator—is not benefiting from it. Readlists does. That’s not right.