You Have Been Told!

There is little doubt in my mind that one must take note of all the clues that are provided by the latest and greatest whatever’s on the web.

To do otherwise places one in peril of becoming redundant. The most recent crop of actually very handy gizmos is also sending a loud and clear message to designers and owners of web sites.

Once upon a time web pages were colourful, cluttered with images and impressive graphic slogans and banners. As we all realise the visible content these provide is illegible to search engines but were, and indeed still are, used to appeal to the human eye and soul.

Besides designing web sites I also do a fair share of research for which the web is a wondrous resource. But heavily cluttered pages do make it harder to read the text. This is further compounded by advertising material that is downloaded to one’s browser once the IP address has been decoded to establish my location and thus identifying the most appropriate and current advertisement feed. Regrettably age has not wearied me but eyesight, I confess, has diminished. That just adds to the problem in my case.

So let me ask you: How often do you find yourself researching a particular topic on the Internet and having trouble keeping track of all the useful documents you encounter? Sure, you can add each interesting URL to your browser’s bookmarks or favourites section but it then becomes difficult to manage. And your saved items are only accessible from one machine. Another option, that I have to admit to being guilty of on more than one occasion, is to just hit the ‘print’ button whenever you come across useful information and then spend ages sifting through half a tree of stuff. And you still have a cluttered page.

Would it not be great if one could click a button, have the clutter disappear and be left with the text nicely formatted in a clearly legible font? Is there such a way? I think so. It’s a free web site called InstaPaper, that I assume is some sort of shorthand for an instant, personalised newspaper. Because that’s basically what it allows you to create.

To start, head to and sign up for an account. It’s free and you don’t need to verify it with an email address. You don’t need to download or install any software but you will need to use a browser with a bookmarks toolbar. Most of them have such a thing, though you may need to enable it if it’s not turned on by default. Then drag the ‘read later’ button from the InstaPaper web site onto your bookmarks toolbar. Now you’re ready to go.

When you come across an interesting web page, hit the ‘read later’ button. That’s all you need to do. The page is saved in your InstaPaper account, ready for you to read, er, later.

When you’ve finished your researching exercise and you think you’ve collected everything that looks potentially useful about the subject, log back into your InstaPaper account, and there are all the links you saved. You can click on them one-by-one and look at the original web pages. Or you can organise them into folders. You can also view them in text-only format and even download all of the text in ePub or Kindle format. Perfect for reading offline.

And because your links are saved within the InstaPaper system, rather than on your own computer, you can log into the site from any other machine and still access your saved links.

Obviously you can also click on the InstaPaper ‘text’ button to have an immediate clean copy of the web page in front of you. All ready for saving or printing as you wish.

It even does a fair job of dismantling tables into a sensible plain text form.

What is significant is that this, and other similar systems like Read It Later, is also designed to run on smart phones. These of course can do without piles pf graphics and ads. Just down load the app.

Obviously InstaPaper is cloud based. That raises the usual question of privacy and security. You can read their policy statement but the ability to edit and/or delete material stored is clearly dealt with and is reassuring.

Another advantage for using such a system is that stored bookmarks become device independent and hence accessible from anywhere. But let me quote R Schifreen who has provided an interesting approach to bookmark/favorites management: “There are plenty of sites that allow you to share bookmarks across different devices. But they all work by storing the bookmarks (or the text of the page – it really doesn’t make any difference) on the web server. So yes, in theory, your favourite pages can be tracked and traced.”

If you store stuff on someone else’s server, there’s no way around that. Well, not unless you encrypt the data before you upload it but that makes it difficult to share because you’d have to decrypt it too.

For what it’s worth, let me tell you how I do it. I store my bookmarks in a standard HTML file. It contains not only my favourite sites but also a copy of the Google search form. So from a single page I have all my sites, neatly laid out, as well as a search form. I maintain and edit this with an HTML editor. Most current word processors allow generation of HTML files. Here’s the neat bit. I store that HTML file in my DropBox. And on each PC that I use regularly, I set the browser’s home page to point to that file in the DropBox.

Convenient? You bet. Secure? Sufficient for me. And if I want to use DropBox to store anything that’s private, I encrypt it with TrueCrypt first using a pass-phrase of around 30 characters. Just make sure you do not forget that. Your file is gone forever if you do!

For those of you who may not be aware DropBox is a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs and videos anywhere and share them easily. Never email yourself a file again! But you need to be aware that the whole “let’s store everything on the cloud now” movement is incompatible with personal data privacy. Nevertheless it does have useful advantages.

So all this does beg the question whether we should continue using graphic elements on web pages? Pictures yes, but important text or slogans should become text based if you want those messages to remain visible while using these innovations.

Don’t loose your name, sales pitch or call to action!

The time has come to have your webmaster re-assess your site and make suitable revisions.

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