Clutter be gone: Reclaiming reading on the internet with a single button

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Are you tired of reading through the clutter of cookie prompts, advertisements, and notification prompts? What if I told you there is a single magic button which gets you just the information you're interested in? And what if you don't need to install any extensions, because this button is already in your browser?

Clutter be gone: The art of reading articles online
The E15 magazine homepage in Google Chrome

Why ad blockers suck

The screenshot above is just an example of how the current internet experience looks like for a regular user. On desktop I use uBlock Origin to eliminate most of the clutter, but it has a few drawbacks:

  • You need to install the extension.
  • Sometimes it breaks websites and you need to remind yourself that the ad blocker could be the reason.
  • If it breaks a website, you need to figure out some exception rules in the clunky UI of the extension.
  • It isn't available for phones.
  • It requires my trust, because I give it permission to do basically anything on any page I'm browsing. Effectively, the extension is a Man-in-the-middle. It is like police, a thing which is legally allowed to use force to keep order, but can easily get out of hand if unchecked.

The above points are okay-ish for me, a power user with affinity to make my life a bit more miserable for the sake of privacy and better internet experience. However, they're deal breakers for regular users.

Also, half of my browsing and reading happens to be on my phone. Yeah, there is a thing called AdGuard and others, but here we are again with the trust. The installation step where I'm supposed to give it permissions to do almost anything with my phone makes me uneasy. And even though I gave it the access, I didn't manage to get it working properly.

Why this all is so annoying

If clicking on cookie clutter and avoiding ads is annoying on desktop, on a phone it is downright infuriating. You want to get stuff done quickly, because you're in a tram and need to check something. Or perhaps quietly, because you're reading while someone is sleeping next to you.

You open a link and—cookies! Video ads! Pop-ups! Websites forcing you to play a fat-fingering game, different kinds, different levels of difficulty. Exhausting your patience. Making your short stay in this world shorter and more miserable.

On iPhone, you can long-press any link and get a preview of what you're clicking on. In the preview, you might see the title, the lead paragraph, the main photo, right? You can then decide whether you want to actually go to that page, read it later, or let it be. You know what all my previews look like? Like a giant cookie prompt.

iPhone preview
The title of the cookie prompt starts with: „Do you enjoy our content?“ What?! What content are you even talking about?

This is also how all websites my in-app browsers look like. Even if I confirm the cookie prompt in the standalone Safari, the in-app browser windows don't share cookies with it, so I'm prompted again.

I have a beard, I'm an old man. I remember how the web used to be. Yes, we had banners. Yes, we had pop-up windows. But back then, the browsers at least didn't collaborate with advertisers. They seemed to care about user experience. They guarded us against the most infuriating practices, so we could have a better time reading the internet. Today, Google Chrome has a monopoly. A browser developed by an advertising company. As of now it takes four years of delays to implement even the most basic protection of its users.

Go here: Laughing or crying? I'm crying, because I've been laughing for too long and after a decade of more and more of these obstructions, I feel like it's just not funny anymore. Coping by joking stopped working for me. We, users of the internet, need to take action.

If it didn't produce CO₂, I'd wish the most infuriating websites burned down. It does produce CO₂ to burn servers and my tapping fingers don't have the superpower to do it anyway, so I'm left with looking for a different approach.

Yes to privacy-aware browsers and reader modes

I use browsers which at least pretend to protect users by blocking the most basic stuff. I use Firefox on my desktop and Safari on my phone.

Both these browsers also feature a magic button, which hides everything but content on any given page. It's quite hidden, but it's there: See how-to for Firefox, how-to for Safari. It's called Reader Mode.

Reader Mode in Safari
Reader Mode in Firefox

It respects your dark mode settings, so no more bleeding eyes from white backgrounds when you're trying to read something in the middle of the night. Not sure about Safari, but Firefox offers font settings and is even able to read the article out loud by a robotic voice.

The best thing is that you don't need to click on anything else. You land on a page? Don't mind any pop-ups, cookie prompts, or ads. Just hit the Reader Mode button and be done with it.

No, actually, you know what's even better? I discovered that Safari has an option to turn this on by default!

Reader Mode by default on desktop
Reader Mode by default on iOS

Since I use Safari on my phone, this is pure bliss. Liberation. Deliverance! I don't have to tap on anything anymore. Most of the stuff I open turns into a nice column of text, immediately and automatically.

Sometimes I don't want it turned on or it doesn't process the page well. But I figured out this is a minority of pages I open and I'm okay to do the single tap to opt-out, case by case. Majority of the websites are utter mess though, so to me, ocassionally opting-out from Reader Mode makes more sense than opting-in.

Is it ethical?

What about those poor content providers relying on ads? Well, in the first place, nobody asked me whether it's ethical to track me everywhere and fuck up the internet to the extent it's almost unusable in its default form.

I refuse personal responsibility, I don't care how ethical this is. This is coping. Surviving in a broken and fucked-up system.

You may say: If you don't like it, don't visit that website! If you don't display ads, you're a stowaway! Well this works only until you actually have a choice. The internet got to a state where it's practically impossible to implement a personal policy of avoiding annoying websites. All of them are annoying.

Old man yells at cloud

I do play the meaningless personal responsibility game to make the world a better place, but I have to choose battles. I'm already drinking from pulpy paper straws and I sort my trash by colors to fight climate change. I don't have any capacity left to click on cookie prompts and watch ads to save the publishers.

Folks, let's be honest. If you didn't put the ads all over that page, I wouldn't be motivated to block them. If you didn't track me, there would be no cookie prompts to avoid. If you didn't prompt me to do five hops before I'm able to get to the content, I wouldn't be giving up on how you designed the site.

My currently earns 2.322€ net profit per month and it doesn't have ads, tracking cookies, nor newsletter prompts.

And yes, I do have some analytics. Detailed analytics based on tracking people are overrated. And it's an evil thing to do. That's why the EU wants you to stop doing this! If you cannot figure out a better business model than one based on tracking me, I have no respect. Protecting my internet privacy and experience takes priority.