Lately I have been coming across quite a few related articles and blog posts about making it easier to read content online, ensure screen accessibility, that type of thing. In my own user research and usability testing at work we discovered that users almost always prefer to download or print a PDF for reading rather than scan the HTML, especially when it comes to scientific content.

Preferences like this seem to exist for a few reasons: 1) PDFs lack flashy advertisements and related site content, and 2) once printed, you “own” the PDF content, or as others note, you have possession of it. You can write in the margins and take notes on it, or fold it, or make paper airplanes.

Larger websites seem to be continually offering flashier HTML features and interactions, but rarely focus on making the experience simpler.

The removal of ads for reading content online is already available in various subscription services and apps like Readability or the Chrome iReader, or Papers for research content, but I wonder about reader usage. Perhaps readers aren’t aware of these options? Or maybe people still prefer the “feel” of paper between their fingers — which is one reason I personally prefer reading actual printed books to an eReader.

Interestingly, sites like the New York Times seem to be embracing this user/reader preference; they launched a beta site this year that seems to be (for now) advert-free, with a redesign that incorporates lots more whitespace (!) to make reading online easier.