Tools that Simplify How You Read the Web

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The web has become so complex that reading simple content on a typical page often feels like an exercise designed to test your powers of concentration.

Between banner ads, pop-ups, sidebars, “Click to continue” links, and similar standard web page features, the important content often gets lost.

Evernote, Instapaper, etc…

A few years ago, Evernote gave us a partial answer in the form of Evernote Clearly. Since then, the tool has been merged into the increasingly useful Evernote Web Clipper.

Other tools have also tried to bridge the gap between what web publishers are serving and what web consumers want to eat – probably most notably Instapaper, which allows you to turn almost any web page into a beautifully formatted, easy-to-read text for offline reading – free of slow load times and intrusive pop-ups.

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Tapped Out?

At this point, the market for offline reading and format-simplication tools for the web is probably about tapped out. Yeah, I’d love to see a merging of the features of Instapaper and Evernote, so that I might have a dedicated sort of hot list of offline reading items that’s easy to use within my vast Evernote account. But altogether I’d say we have some pretty good tools available right now and there’s probably not much new going to happen in this area for a while.

What about you? Got a great feature idea you’d like to see the web tools makers provide right now to help with offline reading?

Tools should support great and flexible work

I once wrote about some of the feaures I want to see in some of the traditional business software.

For example, a few things I would add to Microsoft Outlook, which is an excellent tool in so many ways but which has some tough hurdles to overcome if you truly think of your work as a fluid, flexible utilization of tools that should conform to your own work style.

One example was that I’d like to see Outlook’s Calendar give me the option of adding multiple reminders, similar to what Google Calendar allows. This is a great feature to have because it means that when an actionable item comes in, I canĀ turn it into a date-based Calendar item, and do the mental processing a single time about when I need to think about it again by setting myself all the various reminders I need all at once. Sure, you canĀ also do this by parsing the actionable item into multiple Appointments, Tasks, or other sorts of digital work items, but why not just give the original Calendar a little more flexibility to set multiple reminders?

Another example of a feature I’d love to see in Outlook is tagging. Yes, Outlook has categories. But if you’ve ever used a tool that has true tagging (and implements it with minimal friction), then you know that Outlook’s categories are simply something very different. I will write about my great love for tagging in all tools more in-depth elsewhere, but suffice it to say for now that the only way to get close to great tagging in Outlook is to use an add-on called Taglocity. But unfortunately, the company that once made Taglocity appears to no longer exist, and the tool appears to have died.

Gmail has tagging, and I have to say that Google’s tools (most notably the now-defunct Google Notebook) were what introduced me to the concept of tagging in the first place. In Gmail, tags are called “Labels” but they aren’t quite as quick and easy to use as the implementation that Taglocity installed into Outlook.

Old tools die hard

In general, the problem with most of the typical tools that we all use at work – the business and office software – is that it’s been around for so long that even when it gets great new features, there are still so many burdens and ties to the software’s long history that the great new feature has:

  • More friction than it needs to have
  • Less functionality than it should have

And as a result, many of us (and the companies we work for) continue to spend a lot of money to both buy and provide technical support for software tools that only partly meets our needs.

Are we really still wasting human resources?

A big percentage of the human resources that could be going into growing and causing your company to thrive is instead spent on simply learning and managing how to bridge the gap between what your people need / want to do, and what the tools you give them allow them to do.

It’s a hard cycle to break, but it’s something I’ll be continuing to explore in-depth as we all move toward finding our path to the new workplace where we can work most effectively without unnecessary limits.