The Stack Archive

Twitter trials ad-blocking reader mode for links

Mon 31 Oct 2016

Twitter is experimenting with linking directly to versions of a web-page which are stripped of all advertising, to the consternation of at least one major news outlet for whom networked ads are a source of revenue.

Alex Hern writes in The Guardian of being invited to the small group of journalists and Twitter followers participating in the trial, in which all outgoing hyperlinks open up in Safari’s ‘reader mode’. In reader mode the browser identifies the core content of the page and strips away all else; pretty much all that usually remains is the title, author, date and content. Firefox also offers a similar ‘strip-down’, though Google’s relationship with online advertising means that Chrome’s ability to pare down web pages is a bit difficult to turn on compared to the URL bar icons in Safari, Firefox, and Edge.


“While the new feature can be a boon for those navigating badly designed web-pages,” writes Hern “it also manages to mangle the presentation of almost as many sites. While the feature works well for traditional news articles, anything that isn’t a chunk of text-heavy content in the middle of a page falls apart.”

guardian-mobile-view-testAs a regular user of reader mode, I have never seen it mangle one page, contrary to the writer’s assertion. Though in-article images can be lost if they are implemented by complex CSS or carousels rather than in the main run of text, even these usually survive, in my experience. I re-tested a Guardian article by hitting the ‘text’ icon in the top left in mobile Safari, and the result (left) preserves the inline images perfectly.

Twitter seems to have implemented the feature on a budget since it only has to call the reader mode function (presumably in the URL or header information) when sending the viewer off-site. However, there are no details in the piece about how this is accomplished.

In Firefox this can be achieved by appending the URL to a config flag, thus: about:reader?url=https://thestack.com/iot/2016/10/31/huawei-nb-iot-2017/.

Automating the procedure in a similar manner with desktop Safari and iOS Safari is, if possible, not currently well-documented.

Twitter has made no announcement on the topic, and the test is reported to have very few participants, according to a Twitter spokesperson.

The kind of page-reduction that reader mode provides is similar to Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages program, but more ruthless, since AMP pages are designed not to strip out advertising.

If implemented more widely, it would not cost ad impressions necessarily, since the full-fat page must briefly load before the crash-diet can take effect. But ads which are designed to launch with exit intent or at scroll-points, or otherwise in response to user interaction are likely to never exit the preload buffer. Additionally, those affected might argue, the possibilities for further interaction, engagement or conversion are severely curtailed if the ads disappear as soon as they are rendered.

Twitter, which has always had great difficulty in monetising its own network, is currently in a massive state of flux, and probably between commercial ideologies at the moment, since this experiment seems rather more radical than it might have undertaken in its steadier business climes.


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