Richard Ziade Talks Readlists

Readlists on Many Devices

This week saw the launch of Readlists, a link gathering/curation service from Arc90, the folks behind Readability. On launch day I took a look at the service and found it to be a tool that doesn’t fulfill a need I have, but others have taken it for a spin and done some neat things.1

Just as when Readability launched, Readlists has been met with some harsh criticism about how it deals with authors’ content. I’m not quite ready to pass judgement either way, but I am curious. So I emailed Richard Ziade, Arc90’s lead strategist, again to ask him to clarify a few things about Readlists. Here is our full conversation.

How long has the idea of Readlists been around?

A few months but it’s popped in brainstorming conversations for probably longer than that.

What prompted Arc90 to create Readlists? Was there something in your personal workflow you were looking to fulfill?

There wasn’t really a particular use case. It just made a lot of sense to us and we figured people would value it. It’s so hard to find good hand-picked things these days. We figured we’d create a tool that just empowered everyone to lay down a topic, find great stuff and share it with others.

Who do you think is the main audience for Readlists?

Really anyone. It’s a great tool for specialized topics that people are passionate about. Want stories about horse racing? Want a collection of low-carb recipes? It’s a great way to collect and organize stuff—and most importantly—share it with others. We wanted it to be a zero-training tool because we want anyone could take advantage of it.

Why build Readlists as a separate app? Why not build it right into Readability as a feature?

There were a few reasons. We wanted the Readlists promise to stand on its own and not just be buried as a feature elsewhere. We also wanted to highlight to the world that Readability is truly a platform. Readlists could have theoretically been built by anyone without our help.

If one is going to share link lists, or “curate” content, aren’t there already a number of options out there? Blogs, newsletters, Tumblr, etc. What makes Readlists different?

I think it’s a slightly different case. You may not need a whole blog to share five great articles on evolution, for example. Also, you can get started instantly. You don’t even need to fill anything out. Just start dropping URLs and go.

Some are suggesting that Readlists crosses a line by making exported ebooks available to the public, since once they are downloaded, the work or link can’t be removed, even if the original author protests. I’m curious your response to this criticism and what your thought process was in building in the ebook feature. Is Readlists meant to be an ebook creation tool first, or is it a perk alongside the web-based list hosting?

We just wanted to people to have more flexible ways to read. People are reading more on their Kindles and in iBooks and such. We just wanted to build a bridge between the web and all these new devices. I suppose ebook and Kindle export is a feature alongside the primary power of Readlists: creating great lists of stuff worth reading on the web for others to discover.

I am going to have to press you on that last one. What do you say to an author who feels Readlists is repackaging content without their consent?

It’s a fair question.

You could make very logical and rational arguments that these services (and Instapaper and Pocket and Dropbox and Evernote, the list goes on) are infringing copyright. Today, you can save a web page into a public Dropbox folder and share that link with the entire world. So yeah, authors can step forward and say, “hey, stop that!”

I don’t think it’s a Readlists question. It’s a much bigger one. This is happening. But here’s the interesting thing: it’s happening because people want it and find value in it. That’s a good thing! In 48 hours, thousands of people have told us how awesome and useful this thing is. What that tells us is that there are opportunities ahead.

Now, we’re not sure how this plays out. Keep in mind, Readlists is an experiment. It’s free. We’d love to talk to publishers and writers about how we can tweak it so they can derive value from it. That’s ultimately what we want to do because the tools we build come out of a love for writing.

Things are changing dramatically and quickly and we’re not the only ones causing change. The glimmer of hope is that beyond all this change will be new opportunities that will benefit everyone.

  1. For example, this compilation of Criterion Collection essays by CriterionCast co-host (and friend of the candler blog) Ryan Gallagher puts the service to use in a way I hadn’t considered originally. ↩︎