How Online Reading Is Changing - And How to Cope!

Yesterday we outlined five reasons why Web publishing is undergoing a sea change, via new services like Medium, Branch, Svtle and App.net. In today's post, we turn our attention to the readers. We're all readers, in some capacity. So the changes we're witnessing in publishing affect us all. Here's what it will mean to you and how you can adapt.

The Rise of Gated Communities

One of the curious factors in the new wave of publishing services is that they are restrictive in nature. In all four of the services we mentioned - Medium, Branch, Svtle and App.net - you cannot write to them unless you have been given permission to do so. Essentially, they're read-only by default. In other words, this new crop of services is less democratic than what came before - Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger and even Twitter.

The reason why they're restricting access is because of a drive for quality. Rightly or wrongly, these companies have decided to tackle the Quality problem by creating gated communities. Most of us can peek through the bars of the gate and read the posts. But unless you've been granted access to come inside, you're effectively discouraged from joining the conversation.

Over time Medium, Branch, App.net and others will open their gates to more people, but you have to wonder what advantages those with early access are gaining - and what effect that will have on the future of reading on the Web. Will we become segregated communities of readers? Will those of us locked out now, revert back to mainstream media to get our fix of reading ("Well if they don't want my opinion, I'll go back to reading the newspaper!").

We don't know what the effects of these new gated communities will be, but the whiff of elitism is unsettling.

How to Keep Up

Over 2012, the number of services to consume content from has expanded dramatically. Pinterest, App.net, Medium, Branch and others have joined the content creation fray over the past year. This is putting even further strain on our already over-taxed capacity to keep up.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to manage your online reading. If you're an uber-geek with a ravenous informational diet, then ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell has some great suggestions for you. But most people don't need or want to consume that much content. So for the rest of us, here are a couple of simple guidelines:

1. Make choices about which social media services best suit you and ignore the rest.

If looking at pretty pictures every day isn't a requirement, then stop using Pinterest. If you're not a developer (or someone who follows what developers do), then App.net probably isn't for you. If you find that Twitter is too distracting and the conversations aren't satisfying, then (sacre bleu!) drop out of that network.

2. Focus on content that is important to you.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but every one of us has been distracted by content that - if we're honest with ourselves - we didn't really need to know. Will you gain anything by reading the latest iPhone 5 rumor? That 24-page slideshow about a blogger in that other blog? Resist the temptation to click on those links and apply quality control to what you read. Quality is a philosophy driving Evan Williams and his Medium team; and it can just as well be adopted for own personal reading habits.

Topic-based organization of content is easier with these new publishing tools, which is great for readers. You'll be able to follow topics that interest you - and disregard others. It is of course good to be eclectic and open to new things, but topical browsing helps focus your reading.

Learning to Swim in The Stream

More content, streams of data, topic structures, (theoretically) better quality - all of these trends in online publishing require an equivalent shift in our online reading habits.

Our advice is to choose your content sources wisely, apply your own quality control, try and focus on topics of particular interest, and dip in and out of the stream as it suits you.