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  • Case Study

Readability

A community shapes a reading platform: the future of reading on the web is powered by innovation.

Readability, a reading platform for the web and publishing tree-shaker, is improving the experience of reading on the web and providing an avenue to support writers and publishers on the Internet.

For sure, there are easier challenges to take on but the Readability team has zeroed in on a need. Readability believes a writer’s words should rise above the skyscraper advertisement in the right-rail begging—CLICK NOW!!! But they are also none to foolish to realize they are smack dab in the middle of a publishing redux. Playing nice through a difficult, but real, industry transition is equal parts publishing passion and technology finesse. But it’s 100% inevitability.

Originally created as an Arc90 Lab Experiment, Readability has been featured in the NY Times, and currently powers other popular web apps like Reeder, Pulse.me and Tweetbot. What was once a pet project of founder Rich Ziade is now a full-fledged publishing movement with eight employees and game changing inertia. Readability is currently on a roll moving to free service model, acceptance into the iTunes App Store and the announcement of Android availability.

A Product Manager’s Dream

Movements are rabid uber-communities. They alight when people who have banded together for a common cause (a community) solidify a direction and generate inertia. The clearer the dimensions and constraints of a solution come into focus, the closer to making a difference a product is—Readability is at that juncture.

As a fast-moving startup, Readability has more great ideas coming in than it can handle. Between what the team is gathering internally and what the community is saying, Readability has a welcome problem of idea moderation and alignment. Since the birth of Readability three years ago, the team has used Kindling to corral and collate ideas that have become core features. The relationship between the two companies was a partnership of necessity and proximity. Readability and Kindling share founders, a midtown address and are both products born out of the consulting firm arc90.

“We’ve validated a lot of ideas with Kindling. And while some of them are deep and not voted up very high and half-baked, they trigger a thought internally with the team anyway. I love digging into the long tail of what’s coming in—you get these weird cases of ideas and rationale around them that actually can spark a different path to take a product,” says Ziade.

For example, it was a Readability community member who suggested allowing users to email article links directly to their own reading list.

After 47 votes and 16 comments in Kindling, the member’s idea manifested into a full-fledged feature, with top navigation hierarchy.

Kindling’s innovation management workflow aims to create living ideas and apply momentum to the ideas that are validated. This aligns nicely with Readability, who has a community that demands they transition from community to momentum. Users who feel strongly about Readability desire to not only add to the conversation but also help make it actionable.

“You can’t really add to a conversation in a knowledge base. Content is getting trampled on and the web has become a hostile place—that’s the undertow. Then there’s Kindling, which is this amazing place that we can point users to and show them that we understand their needs and hear their concerns about the publishing and reading worlds. It’s a statement product—we hear you and value you,” says Ziade.

Method to the Madness

At the core of Kindling’s social innovation software is the ability to input and manage ideas. But the real power under the hood are the evaluation, mobile and open innovation features. The evaluation feature helps companies like Readability vet ideas with an appropriate group or individual, ensuring that the person best suited to pressure-test a concept, does. With mobile, Kindling ensures that ideas can be captured anywhere: train, at lunch or running weekend errands. Mobile guarantees ‘I’ll remember in the morning’ isn’t a user’s go-to option. And with open innovation, Kindling allows users outside an organization to help with idea creation and management.

As a potentially game-changing company in the publishing space, Readability is committed to maintaining goal orientation over task orientation. Ziade is well aware of the danger of gold plating, feature creep and being all things to all people.

“Being able to point our team to the open innovation community input is key, especially for new employees. They need some context, some reasoning and rationale to why we are doing what we are doing. Kindling is just a good place to sort of sit them down and say, ‘Hey, wade through this. Here’s what we’re struggling through,’” says Ziade.

Innovators like Readability use Kindling to break strategy down to a currency system. By investing heavily in the bridge between community and movement, Readability ensures everyone is on the same page. Every idea is an opportunity to tune strategy and create a plan that everyone is invested in—from developer to community manager.

“There isn’t a startup that in the first nine or twelve months isn’t grabbing a piece of paper and throwing it in the trash and trying something a little different. We’ve done it two or three times. And it’s so important to expose employees and the community to that process. Show them some of the thinking behind why we are doing what we are doing,” says Ziade.

The ease of use and power of Kindling fosters a sense of inclusion by giving everyone a voice—from the intern to the CEO. Employee empowerment is a quiet and powerful win.

Readability has tapped into a deep need for readers and their passionate community continues to shape the product. The Readbility community is more than just customers, they are collaborators and co-creators helping to shape the future of publishing and reading on the web.