Clean-text bookmarklet

Saturday 8 April 2017

I love the text-based web. I love that people can speak their minds, express opinions, encourage each other, and create a lively world of words. This also means they are free to design their text in, shall we say, expressive ways. Those ways are not always ideal for actually reading the words.

Today I really liked Tiberius Hefflin's Part of That World, about the need to recognize non-code contributions in open source projects. You should read it, it is good and true.

But when I first got to the page, I saw this:

Screenshot of gray text on black background, slightly letterspaced

To start with the positive, this text has an elegance to it. It gives a peaceful quiet impression. It pairs perfectly with the mermaid illustration on the page. But I find it hard to read. This typeface is too weak to be light-on-dark, and letterspacing is almost always a bad idea for body text. It isn't even white-on-black, it's 70% white on black, so the letters seem to be hiding in the dark.

I don't mean to pick on this page. It's a well-designed page. There's clearly a mood being created here, and it's been established well. There are many pages online that veer much farther from the usual than this.

My solution for pages like this is a bookmarklet to strip away idiosyncracies in text layout. It changes text to almost-black on white, it removes letterspacing and shadows, and changes full-justified text to left-justified. When I use the bookmarklet on Part of That World, it looks like this:

Screenshot of cleaned-up text

You might prefer the original. That's fine, to each their own. You might feel like the personality has been bleached from this text. To some extent, that's true. But I saw the original, and can choose between them. This helped me to read the words, and not get snagged on the design of the page.

This is the bookmarklet: Clean text.

This is the JavaScript code in the bookmarklet, formatted and tweaked so you can read it:

javascript:(function () {
    var newSS = document.createElement('link'),
        styles = (
            '* { ' +
                'background: #fff; color: #111; ' +
                'letter-spacing: 0; text-shadow: none; hyphens: none; ' +
            '}' +
            ':link, :link * { color: #0000EE; } ' +
            ':visited, :visited * { color: #551A8B; }'
        ).replace(/;/g,' !important;');
    newSS.rel = 'stylesheet';
    newSS.href = 'data:text/css,' + escape(styles);
    var els = document.getElementsByTagName('*');
    for (var i = 0, el; el = els[i]; i++) {
        if (getComputedStyle(el).textAlign === 'justify') {
   = 'left';

There are other solutions to eccentrically designed pages. You could read blogs in a single aggregating RSS reader. But then everything is completely homogenized, and you don't even get a chance to experience the design as the author intended. Writers could (and are) flocking to sites like Medium that again homogenize the design.

By the way, full disclosure: I don't like the design of my own site, the page you are (probably) currently reading. I have been working on a re-design on and off for months. Maybe eventually it will be finished. The text will be serif, and larger, with a responsive layout and fewer distractions. Some day.


David Goodger 4:13 PM on 9 Apr 2017

This is great, thanks! I modified it with

color: #000;
because I prefer black on white for maximum contrast. And I recommend this service: Convert bookmarklet to Chrome extension (gives the bookmarklet an icon and puts it in the extensions area).

Christos Kontas 6:25 PM on 12 Apr 2017

Contrary to your beliefs, I do like the vintage design of your blog and your site, in general! I would happily apply it to my own pages!

Aron Griffis 1:53 PM on 19 Apr 2017

Bookmarklets are cool. Thanks for sharing, Ned.

I've been using Firefox's built-in reader mode for a similar effect. Click the book icon at the right side of the location bar, and the page looks like this:

Ned Batchelder 1:59 PM on 19 Apr 2017

@Aron: somehow I had not internalized that feature of Firefox! Very helpful, thanks.

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