An Even Better Webcomics Reader

After my post on my IFTTT Webcomics hack, I got an email from Jamey Sharp of Comic Rocket. In it, he points me at his site and says they built it out of similar frustrations to mine and with similar design goals. In the case of Comic Rocket, the reading of the site is actually done via a small navigation bar at the top but you are loading each page of the webcomic’s site individually. If there are ads or page views that somehow turn into money for them, by using this method you are not depriving them of anything. I like it.

The site indexes webcomics, and then keeps track of what the next installment is. They don’t use RSS for this but the actual site itself, so it works whether or not the webcomic has any type of feed. As long as the page has navigation (and what comic wouldn’t?) this will work. A side effect of that is there is a catalog of 10,000 comics already at Comic Rocket. So far, every one from my subscription list I’ve looked for is there.

I like it a lot so far, but there are two feature I’d like to see added:

1) [UPDATE – looks like this is already there and I missed it ] Some sort of collaborative filtering based on the subscription list. Look at other users, and for the people subscribed to all the comics I’m reading, what are the most common other comics not on my list? Adding in discoverability that way would even give webcomics creators an incentive to use the site, or to recommend their readers to use it.

2) The ability to subscribe to a group of comics all at once via OPML.

I’ve been playing with it for a few days and I don’t see anything but upside for comics creators here. Well done, Comic Rocket! Also, it’s Portland OR based (and why wouldn’t it be?) PDX represent!

My Current Webcomics Reader

Some time ago on Google Plus I cast a net for an idea of a new sort of webcomics reader. Because my reading is in fits and starts and often can go weeks between sessions, Google Reader is no longer a reasonable way to read the feeds. If there are up to 20 strips of each comic, all in reverse chronological order, it requires me to scroll all the way down and then read from the bottom up as a number of my strips have some kind of continuity.

I have arrived at a solution that seems to be working for me. It is truly a hack of hacks, but like the best hacks is effectively solving a problem for me. Unfortunately, also like hacks it might not be very robust or transferrable to other people. I achieved my goal with a custom IFTTT rule:

This has prerequisites. You need an IFTTT account, a linked Dropbox account and a linked Google Reader account. You also need to have the RSS feeds for all webcomics you subscribe to in a single folder or with a consistent tag. In my rule, it is a folder named “Webcomics” but it can be named anything, it just has to match the rule you have. If you are interested in using it, you can go to the above link and clone the rule to your own account and modify it from there.

Here’s how it works. Every feed in my Google Reader’s “Webcomics” folder gets written to a file in my Dropbox. When I have time for webcomics, I open the file in my browser and then delete it. The next time I look, the top of the page will be the oldest strips I haven’t yet read. There is a quirk of the IFTTT -> Dropbox integration, in that the action to append to a text file forces it to have a .txt extension even though the content of what I’m appending is HTML. This was orignally a bug to me, but now I think of it as a feature. Because the file can get so big that I don’t read it in a single setting, effectively when I change the extension from webcomics.html.txt to webcomics.html is the point at which I freeze the file. I can read it until I finish, even if it takes a few days or weeks. Meanwhile, it will create a new webcomics.html.txt file and be happily appending that whole time period.

This is not a perfect solution. It requires that you have an internet connection as nothing is saving the comic strips to any local machine, it’s a little fugly in the page generated and has none of the management features of even the most rudimentary RSS reader. It’s on you to know what you have read, and if you have to close your browser in the middle there is no way to return to the previous point.

On the upside, all of the features I wanted in my original post are there. It preserves all the links from the original post, so if there are ads in the feed or store links or any other monetization, those are preserved in the file I read. I’ve never wanted to cheat the cartoonists out of their monetization.

I’ve been using this system since July. In that time, some of the strips I orignally followed have ended, like Kris Straub’s Starslip Crisis, and others like Scott Kurtz’ PVP have switched to not including images in the feed. Those were two of the strips that were the original impetus because both had storylines that required reading them forwards. Que sera, things live and die and change.

I’m curious if this system will be effective for anyone else that is not me. Try it out and let me know your experiences, positive or negative.