Email is still one of the most convenient ways to quickly share links to friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, there are two major problems. First many people’s browsers are not configured to work correctly with their email client, especially for webmail. Second, many browsers only support emailing a link to the web page and not the entire web page. Furthermore, native support to email links is inconsistent and often formatted in a way that may break links for the recipient. I my Messaging News article a Better Way to Share Links in Email described these problems as well as a solution based on the free Readability bookmarklet that should work in nearly any browser and typically produces better results.
This article looks at your options for emailing full web pages from nearly any browser. Unfortunately, there are few native options for emailing full web pages. If your primary email client is Outlook 2007 you can select to View -> Toolbars -> Web then open your web page in the built-in browser and finally select “Send Webpage by Email” from the Actions menu. In Internet Explorer version 6 and higher you can click on the “Send Page by Email” button. If you use both Apple Mail and the Safari browser you can select the “Mail Contents of This Page” from the File menu.
The next most simple option is to use the EmailTheWeb service, The service requires that you sign in with Google Account and uses your Gmail account to send out the message. The service is free for up to 25 messages a day. Email the web will also archive your pages for a limited time and mirror the original web page for the recipient in cases where the HTML was too difficult for the application to send correctly. Paid plans range from $20 to $80 a year. Paid plans include longer archiving and mirroring periods. You can use the service by entering your URL on the web site, with a browser bookmarklet, as a Google Toolbar button in IE, or as a Firefox extension.
Limitations of Email Web Pages
All of the above methods of email a full HTML page have limitations. In particular, complex HTML pages will likely look different to the recipient as the application sending the web page may modify contents when sending and the recipient’s email client may further modify the page when rendering it. Web mail clients typically have strict limitation on style sheets in email and many block images by default. The Campaign Monitor Guide to CSS support in email clients is an excellent overview of the limitations. Campaign Monitor has more details on other aspects of HTML in email in their resources on designing and building emails. In some cases it is possible to simply copy and paste the entire email message, but the results are typically far from satisfactory, especially since the style sheet is often not copied along with the HTML. Some pages have a print link that produces a simplified version that works better with cut and paste.
Readability Offers a Better Solution
In general I recommend that people first use the Readability bookmarklet to clean up the page and send the new version via email. Unmodified web pages will often not look like the original and may in fact be far less readable if an essential element is modified or removed. I regularly see pages that have text which becomes mashed together, hidden beneath images, and is otherwise unreadable. The page may also contain many unnecessarily elements such as page navigation and embedded items such as Flash that will not typically arrive correctly. Web pages that processed by Readability often fare much better.
Readability is an excellent tool from Arc90, that reformats web pages, strips out extraneous elements/ads, turns the text into a single column, and generally improves the typography. I find it makes nearly any web page significantly easier and more pleasant to read. I find several advantages to forwarding pages processed by readability. First, Readability inserts a reload button into each page so the recipient only needs to click on the button to see the original in the browser. Second, Readability includes a print link with a stylesheet customized for printing. Third, the pages greatly simplified, easier to read, and have less HTML for any email client to screw up. From all reports, it is also very helpful for people with limited vision as it increases accessibility. Pages processed with Readability make it far easier for recipients with mobile phones to read the content and typically load faster. I tested reading emailed pages on both iPhone and Android devices. Finally, since you are mailing the entire page to the recipient the well be able to read it offline.
To use Readability, just drag the bookmarklet to your toolbar and click on the bookmarklet for any page you want to improve. Readability offers a selection of fonts including two licensed from TypeKit, options to change the size of the text, modify the width of the margins, and optionally convert all links to footnotes. You can find more information about readability in the Arc90 blog posts Introducing: Readability 1.5 and Readability Updated: An End To The Yank Of The Hyperlink. Finally, the most recent update to Readability includes the long-awaited feature to automatically stitch together multi-page articles, which is a feature that none of the native clients offer. The service is free and the Readability source code is available under the Apache license. For users of Safari 5 on the Mac, Safari Reader is based on Readability and offers much of the same functionality, but does not have any customization options. The “Mail the Contents of This Page” option works from Safari Reader.
There are a few limitations, first Readability will not work on every web page. It is specifically designed for longer articles and does not fare well on complex home pages. Second, the process adds an extra step, which is decidedly less convenient. Finally, in testing I found that ad blockers caused Readability to over block images in some cases. In cases where Readability fails, I find that the Instapaper Mobilizer service is a good alternative, but it is not designed for high volume use.