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tl;dr: SE pages break almost all browser "reader modes." Reader mode is designed to allow users to customize the appearance and formatting of a web page to meet their reading needs. Since it is impossible for a fixed design to equally accommodate all users, I propose investigating whether the HTML structure of SE pages could be modified to play nicely with browser reader views.

Edit: I opened a question on StackOverflow exploring the technical reasons/solutions for this incompatibility.

Relation to recent change in post formatting (line-spacing, background-color): This is neither for nor against the New post formatting, but it is related in that when you tap the native "reader view" in a browser,* often all that's readable is the question or the first answer; the other content simply isn't there. This means users cannot rely on reader view for SE sites. The developer effort spent making SE's design accessible could be partially directed toward making SE compatible with standard tools.

Discussion: Every browser implements "reader view" differently, but most reader views nail the majority of "article" style sites, while nearly all fail on SO/SE posts. I'm not sure what the underlying mechanics are, but from (informally) comparing sites that work/don't with reader view, it seems that they have a heuristic like "look for the element with the most text," and display that to the exclusion of all others. The SE/SO separate-questions-and-answers format seems to break these readers.

Next Steps/Toward a solution:

  1. It might be possible to reverse engineer the success conditions well enough to all most or all of the readers to parse these posts. Some iterative poking around in browser devtools (change to page structure, view in reader, repeat) could reveal a solution.

  2. Also, I believe that Chromium is open source, so perhaps digging into the code base could reveal the rules for reader mode.

Also related: Re: line-spacing: Please revert the line-height change!, Request for a possibility to adjust the spacing between lines for those with poor eyesight, Re: block-quotes/background-color: Please revert the quote background from white to yellow

*Appears to apply to both mobile and desktop reader view in Firefox or Safari, and "simplified view" in mobile Chrome and Edge, which don't have a native desktop reader view. I haven't tested this comprehensively, but I use all of the above browsers daily in app development and have some familiarity with all of their "reader view" modes. Edit: according to a comment, Firefox handles this better than other browsers.

  • This isn’t related to new post formatting as it’s always only shown the question and first answer in reader view. But I would still like to see this because it would provide a better experience on mobile as I think it would remove the margins and fit more content per screen. Note: I can’t get reader view to even be an option on iOS Safari anymore on SE. – Laurel Sep 1 at 2:48
  • Firefox offers a Reader View that shows more than the first answer, so it's probably browser related (you should mention the OS, browser, version, etc. in your question), but the view is missing some information and the layout isn't very good; it doesn't improve readability / usability by any stretch of the imagination - See: i.stack.imgur.com/XYaGI.jpg – Rob Sep 1 at 4:16
  • @amon, are you flagging for: "This question does not appear to be about the software that powers the Stack Exchange network, within the scope defined in the help center."? - A link to a website article explaining that websites can't ever offer a reasonable Reader View with the current state of web browsers would gain your position support from any reviewers in the queue. – Rob Sep 1 at 9:56
  • Without spending a lot of time researching this it seems that it is possible to improve the result one would expect from enabling Reader View; much as one would design a page to be viewable by a text-only browser (such as Lynx, for example). --- Probably a lot of research and changes to the layout would be required - maybe easiest to simply present a disclaimer that the pages aren't optimized for Reader View whenever it is enabled; we could at least do that little. – Rob Sep 1 at 10:29
  • @amon, true. That's why I didn't speculate, you've offered no link to support your claims. – Rob Sep 1 at 10:54
  • Question for more experienced "meta" users: there are lots of threads on the line-spacing change. Would it be appropriate to post an answer on those suggesting supporting "reader view" as a solution? Or in a comment? I don't want to double-post, but I do want to contribute to those discussions, which seem to have overlooked this option. – Tedskovsky Sep 2 at 16:17
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+100

As you asked this question on multiple exchange sites here is a link to the answer I gave on Stack Overflow. which covers these points from a slightly more technical perspective.

Quick Summary of the points raised on Stack Overflow from a non technical perspective

Question and Answer sites do not work well with reader views as reader views are designed to remove comments from pages to simplify them.

The problem does not lie with Stack Exchange sites, but rather with the Reader View scoring criteria and implementation being in direct conflict with Q & A sites.

My suggestions on how to fix the root cause of the problem (allowing people to customise their experience to their requirements) was to either implement your own bookmarklet (a bookmarklet is a link you can drag to your bookmarks bar to execute scripts on a page to manipulate the page / data) for reader view that accounts for Q and A sites or to try and get Stack Exchange sites to implement the feature.

In the end I said that Stack Overflow implementing features to allow users to adjust the site to their preferences would be the best option.

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  • Can someone tell me if a better practice would be to copy and paste the whole answer from Stack Overflow here. I am not sure what is the accepted way of cross posting answers and I am always conscious of "link rot" causing frustration in the future if the URL structure changes on another SE site. – Graham Ritchie Sep 2 at 19:01

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