About a month ago Postlight Labs released Mercury Reader, a Google Chrome extension that finds the readable content on a web page, yanks it out, and redraws it in a clean, easy-to-read format. If you’re familiar with Apple Safari’s browser, Mercury is similar to the “reader” functionality but gives you more controls to customize your reading experience. If you use Chrome, give it a try.
We decided a “soft launch” made the most sense — put the extension out in the wild with minimal fanfare, see where it worked and didn’t, and “officially” launch it later. Surprisingly, it’s adding tens of thousand users per day. And over the weekend it crossed a million users.
The Mercury Platform
The Reader add-on is part of the Mercury platform. Right now the components of that platform include:
- The Mercury Reader for Google Chrome users.
- A web parser API that lets software developers extract readable text from web pages, for use in search optimization, content migration efforts.
- A Google AMP converter that turns any website into an Accelerated Mobile Page.
Taken together, these tools form a platform for extracting the core content inside web pages. As my co-founder Paul Ford has written, platforms are powerful because they make it cheaper to scale. We’re serving a million people now, and can easily serve millions more.
When we talk about Postlight’s services, whether on our podcast or just in conversation, we rarely forget to mention that we build platforms. In other words, we love to design and build the software that sits underneath and powers other software to run. Platforms are the jet engines of the Internet. Without them you just have a big cylinder with a lot of seating.
Rarely do you get the chance to build a platform that powers all sorts of other tools, apps and services. The Mercury API is just such a platform—it’s serving tens of millions of requests per month for a million users.
A million people don’t just show up out of nowhere. Mercury is a lineal descendant of another platform called Readability, which I founded five years ago.
Readability was very popular, and the team who built it did amazing work — but it “ran hot.” It was expensive to run and and support, and there wasn’t a path forward for it as a business.
As a result, after much painful deliberation, it was shut down a month ago. But the core idea of Readability was too important to ignore. After many discussions with my co-founder Paul Ford and the Postlight team, we decided that there was an idea here worth pursuing: Keeping the web readable for all.
That’s why we built Mercury. It carries on the core feature of Readability — it makes pages readable — but it’s based on a totally new code base that can run directly inside a web browser or on the server at once. And most importantly, it doesn’t run hot. It’s incredibly scalable at low cost. (Full disclosure: The Chrome plugin supplanted the old Readability plugin, which did give us a head start of a few hundred thousand downloads. But Mercury’s growth has been exceeding our expectations.)
Where to next? We’re figuring that out. But we have a toolkit that scales and makes the web easier to use for people and computers. That’s powerful.
Mercury is a Postlight Labs project. You can keep up on everything Postlight Labs-related (Mercury or otherwise) by subscribing to the Track Changes newsletter.