Reader beware – different views of point

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Do you use Reader View?  Do you recommend it to your students?  I often use Reader View when available, especially if I want to print out or save a PDF version of the page I am looking at and there is no ready-made PDF version already linked on the page.

Reader and Reader View are extensions or apps which enable “clean” views of the page you are looking at, keeping the textual matter but avoiding the advertisements, embedded videos, navigation and sidebar matter and other distractions.

Here, for instance, is a page on MacWorld, How to enable Reader View automatically for websites in mobile and desktop Safari:

The advertisements flicker and change, the video clip plays automatically and floats so that it is always on the screen, there are several more distractions as you scroll through the article.

These distractions disappear in Safari Reader View, which is easily enabled by clicking on the four-line symbol in the Safari address bar.

 

Safari’s Reader View yields a pared-down distraction-free view of the page:

There are additional options: if you wish, you can change the size of the font or change to a different font, you can change the background colour or the size of the margins or the spacing between lines.   Some Reader software reads the text aloud, which again could be useful for many.  The aim is to give the reader more control, to make reading easier on the eyes, easier to do.

Not all extra matter on web pages is distracting; some can be helpful.  Side-bars in news stories, for instance, can be particularly helpful, pointing out and providing links to related stories and other points of view, to backgrounds to the present story and more; sidebars in shopping sites may offer filter options, enabling users to narrow choices.

Many times though, the links in web pages are probably unhelpful but could also be very tempting, links to completely different stories or to the 10 most viewed pages on the site.  Sometimes the links are extra-tempting and totally misleading, perhaps taking you to “sponsored content” (aka advertorials) or to pages on other sites which are often off-topic,  not what you thought you would find. There is reason such links are known as “clickbait,” distracting at best, dishonest and possibly even dangerous at worst.

Reader View removes the distractions and the temptations.

Reader View, as noted, can be versatile.  Here is a screengrab of my last article, Nothing but…, again in the Safari browser.

And here is a screengrab of Reader View’s rendering of the same article, again in the Safari browser (with Charter font selected).

The background is glaringly white, so let us try a different background:

No!  I know dark backgrounds are better for some – but not for me.  (I find it even more difficult when the font is grey or red or blue on a dark background…  But that is me.)

The cream background is more gentle, this is good (for me) for on-screen reading:

The standard Reader View does not work with all sites or pages, the four-line toggle (or its equivalent in other browsers) is disabled. This can be frustrating – especially for those who use Reader View as their default viewing mode, all distractions avoided whenever possible. Safari is good for this, it has a Preference setting which provides automatic loading of Reader View whenever it is available; similarly, I believe that the latest version of Microsoft Edge makes Reading Mode the default view, one needs to toggle it off to see what was intended (along with any distractions).  Firefox does not have a default mode, but several add-ons are available which evidently enable users to make Reader View the default.

Your loss is nobody’s gain – be aware

It is not just irrelevant distractions which are lost and those who use Reader View by default need to be aware of what they lose.   Here again are the two views of my last post, again in Safari:

 

In Reader View (right), the banner has gone, the horizontal navigation bar with its links to various other pages about me and my work has gone,  the vertical navigation sidebar has gone as well with its easy access to a search function, to recent posts, to the blog archive, to subscription options and other links and information which might well be of great use to the reader.

These are not the only page elements which are not available in Reader View:

  

At the foot of the Reader View page (right), the blog categories at the foot of the article have gone, along with any comments and the ability to add your own comments – these are very much there in the original page (left)

Comments are sometimes unhelpful (and sometimes abusive), but more often, comments can be pertinent and helpful indeed: they may well inspire notions of why the article and the arguments are good or bad (or both) and what to look out for in the article, what is missing or what the pros and cons are, they may spur further reading, may help the reader evaluate the article and its importance.

This may be of particular import for students,  reading and using online articles in their studies.  If they are do not use and perhaps are unaware of comments features because they are in Reader View, they may lose quick access to useful ideas.  It may be useful to make (especially) students aware of the advantages and the disadvantages of Reader View.

My own preference is to use the normal view – and Firefox is my browser of choice.  I sometimes use Reader View when reading longer articles, and I will often “print” them as as PDF to save to my hard drive – sometimes physically printing the PDF files on paper, as is or two pages to a sheet, for reading and annotation.

Heads up

Thus the discovery I made a few days ago.  Tipped off by Debbie (thank you!), I was reading an article Reading in the Age of Distrust by Alison J Head in the Project Information Literacy Provocation Series.

It is a long article and, as suggested earlier, I find it easier to read long articles on paper rather than the screen;  I also wanted to highlight a few points and make notes and comments on the article itself.  Making a Reader View copy and printing was a no-brainer.

The screenshot above shows the article in Firefox, my browser of preference.  Safari uses a four-line toggle to Reader View to the left of the URL, Firefox also uses a four-line toggle inside a square but on the right of the URL.  This is not the only difference.

Only when I settled to reading the Reader View printout did I realize that the heading in Reader View was different to the heading in the original version.  Not only have we lost the details about the project and the series, the date of publication is missing, the endnotes, all 47 of them, are missing and possibly even more dramatically, the author is different!  No longer is Alison Head named as the author, now it is Barbara Fister.

This was puzzling. The alert which Debbie forwarded to me included the note (possibly from a review or a press release)

In this new essay from PIL, “Reading in the Age of Distrust,” Alison Head draws on PIL studies and related reading research to argue that college reading needs a reset.

Alison Head is clearly the author.   Barbaa Fister is named (on the home page for the Provocation Series as a Contributing Editor, indeed, she wrote the first essay in the series, Lizard People in the Library, but she is not named in Head’s essay (other than at is the foot of the page in a list of the Provocation Series editorial team – but then, so are several other people, who are NOT shown as authors, even in Reader View, so that is not the answer).

Getting to the source of the problem

Firefox’s Page Info gave me a clue:  Barbara Fister is named as the author. Could this be where Firefox Reader found Fister’s name?

Maybe – but why is it there, in Page Info?

Then I recalled the problem that auto-citation generators often have in finding bibliographical details such as author, title, date and more, even when these are very clearly stated on the page being referenced (see for instance Not so easy does it).  The reason appears to be that these generators get their information not from the page that we see but from the source code which tells a browser how to display a page. This could well be the case here:

And indeed it does appear to be the case – as indicated by the red arrows added to this screengrab of the source code.  The meta name=”author” tag names Barbara Fister, Project Information Literacy as the author.  Alison J. Head is listed as author in the Body of the coding, but the software appears to weigh the head part of the page more heavily in determining authorship.

Note too the green broken arrow I have added; it points to the main section of the page.

Many, possibly most, elements of an HTML page have a tag which indicates where the element begins (as here with <main>) and also a tag which indicates where the element ends </main>.  This is the case here as we shall see.

The essay includes 47 endnotes, often worth following up to see from where Head got her information and her ideas;  as with any academic article, the sources could well prove interesting to the reader, providing further thoughts and insights not relevant to the article which used these sources and made the reader aware of these sources.

The list of endnotes is not included in the Reader View, the article just ends,

and that is all there is.

The source code shows us why this is so:

The list of Endnotes is outside (beneath) the main page – and this is seems to be why the Reader View does not include the list.  I am not sure that I had appreciated this before, That might be because most papers that I print out are essays which include a link to a PDF version. And this probably explains why Reader View printouts of blog and newspaper articles and similar pages do not include comments from readers: they are beyond the pale – or at least the source code puts them outside the main article.

These various realizations could be vital to those who use Reader View as a default option, as well as those like me who are only occasional users of Reader View. I am thinking particularly of academics, including students.  Reader mode may well make text more readable, but it leaves out helpful, potentially vital information.  This particular essay is particularly fraught, since a reader who cites this source based on the Reader View may well attribute it to the wrong author.

Readers are not all equal

Confusion does not end there.

Reading up about Reader software, I realized that some browsers such as Firefox and Safari come with a Reader mode built in, some such as Chrome have no built-in Reader mode but instead need an add-on to provide this function. And just to complicate even more, there are Reader add-ons for Firefox and Safari, presumably offering different or additional features to the built-in function.

While the Chrome Reader View add-on is simple to download and install, it took me some time to work out how to use it – easy enough now I know how to do it (as long as I remember).  The problem is, once I changed to Reader View, I found Chrome Reader View gave a slightly different result to Firefox Reader View:

In Chrome, the page is headed by a full hyperlink to the article (useful if I want to include this in a reference) – and look, there is Barbara Fister again, named as author of the piece.  We know why now.  I think.

But just when I thought I understood what is going on, I went back to Safari to check the article in Safari’s default Reader:

There is no header or URL, we go straight into the article, and while the author line gives the right author, Alison J Head and gives the date of publication, it also gives “Culture” as a title – or a sub-title – or a whatjacallit (I do not know).  On the original page, “Culture” is a Category for the essay, not a title of any kind, not something “by” Alison J Head.

And none of the Reader Views in these three browsers, including Safari which seems to read the page rather than the source code, includes the list of Endnotes.

In short, I am not so sure that Reader View does simplify reading and understanding, do the gains outweigh the losses?  Clearly care is needed, something (else) for readers to be aware of.

Caveat lector.

 

I will inform Alison Head, as Editor of the Provocation Series, of this issue in a week or two. I would like to give my readers a chance to follow the links and/or see for themselves, before the source code is corrected.

if you use a different browser or Reader View software, it would be interesting to know what you find – especially if you get different results!

If/when correction is made, I hope that it is made only to the copy on the PIL site and not to the archived copy in the Internet Archive/ Wayback Machine.

John

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