Thinking Now About Reading Later

I won't take the time to detail each and every feature difference between Instapaper and Pocket. That information is readily available in countless reviews and comparisons on the web. They are both "read later" services which allow you to essentially bookmark articles on the web to read at some future point in time. They both strip out the ads and make the reading experience much cleaner and more enjoyable for the reader. Macro Arment recently sold a controlling stake in Instapaper to Betaworks. I hadn't realized it until the sale, but a large part of why I used Instapaper exclusively was because I enjoyed the idea of supporting Marco's work. With the sale, I decided to see what the other major player in the space had to offer. Along the way, I stumbled upon another option that I found worth consideration.

Pocket Change

Pocket has a lot to like. They have native Mac, Android and iOS app. Instapaper has no native Mac app, and the Instapaper web app leaves a bit to be desired visually. Pocket's apps on all platforms are free, which most people would see as a benefit. During the last few years, I've come to believe that if you are going to invest your time and attention into integrating an app or service into your workflow, you should understand the relationship you have with the person or company that offers the app/service. With Pocket, the fact that the service and apps are free concerns me. They have no clear business model that I have been able to observe. This leads me to a healthy suspicion that if I put all my "read later" eggs in Pocket, I may be in the position to have to completely restructure my read later workflow again in the near future. This would likely be due to them being acquired by another company, or deciding that making any revenue in this space was not worth the effort and closing its doors.

The interface of the Pocket apps is very clean, which I enjoy. Pocket allows you to organize articles through tags, versus Instapaper's folders. This took some getting used to for someone coming from Instapaper, but after a couple of days it was not a major issue. One annoyance is that the apps across the various platforms have slight differences in user experience that can sometimes cause confusion. Managing multiple articles at once, for example. The Android app offers a "bulk edit" feature that the Mac app does not. My brain has trouble accepting that a desktop application offers fewer features than a mobile variant.

Reading List

For a moment, I carefully considered using Safari's Reading List feature instead of either Instapaper or Pocket. The advantages are pretty striking. It is baked into both the OS X and iOS operating systems since the Safari browser ships as the default browser on both. It is afforded system level integration that third-party services are not. Installing the "Read Later" bookmarklet for either Instapaper or Pocket is a pretty painstaking task compared to "Add to Reading List" in the share sheet in Safari. The bookmarklet installation in mobile Safari on iOS is even more of an Indiana Jones effort.

After much deliberation, there were three reasons I decided that Safari's Reading List just wasn't the right solution for me (though it would be a very viable one for many users):

  1. Reading List is only on Mac and iOS. I use an Android phone and a Windows computer at work. While about 85% of my reading happens on either my Mac or my iPad, I know I would miss the 15%.
  2. Reading List has no tag or folder organization methods. I archive very few of the articles that I read through any "read later" service, however, it is nice to have a method to organize the things that I feel have long-term value. The solution with Reading List would be to move any item to a bookmark service like Pinboard once it has been read. Pinboard has tags so it would not be a horrible work around, however, it seemed more complicated than either Instapaper or Pocket.
  3. Reading List does not format articles for "distraction-free" reading. Safari offers a feature called "Reader" that performs a similar function in this regard. What that means is that any time I would want to use Reading List + Reader to mimic the functionality of Instapaper/Pocket, I'd have to open the Reading List, click on the article, then move to the address bar and click the Reader button. That feels too much like work.

Back To The House That Marco Built

So, at the end of a month long journey to evaluate where my loyalties and preferences reside with regards to reading articles later, my choice is a return to Instapaper. I'll be deleting the Pocket apps from my various devices and re-installing the Instapaper apps. I'll miss the native app experience on my Mac (I'm aware of the Words app, but don't care much for it). I'll miss being able to put the same article in multiple categories via tags. What I will not miss is having the constant paranoia that Pocket is going to be sold or shut down tomorrow. I won't miss the lack of font and theme options (Instapaper really shines here). I won't miss wondering if Pocket is making money mining my reading habits and selling them to the highest bidder.

I don't know what the future holds for Instapaper either. The service was recently sold and the company that now owns the control of Instapaper's future, Betaworks, also bought Digg not all that long ago. They could decide to merge the two products or combine features across them that make Instapaper something different than what I want it to be. That's the risk I'm willing to take. Where Did Our Love Go?

Really interesting article about the origins and struggles of a web start up that I have heard a lot about, but never actually used personally (until today). I find that getting the history of how a popular web brand got to where it is fascinating.

Then traffic started falling. By autumn, it dwindled to less than half its peak, and the very same tech watchers started wondering whether it was all over. Goldstein says he can hear the doubt in the voices of his Silicon Valley friends. "I can tell now when people say, 'How's it going?' they mean, 'You're flattening, aren't you?' "

Thinly masked methods of asking if a company is floundering can be an artform.

Android 30|30 - InstaFetch

Android 30|30 is a series on Tech & Coffee that aims to highlight 30 awesomely useful Android apps in way more than 30 days. Just click the app name in the heading below to be taken to the Android Market.

InstaFetch by ImmSoft

Recently, there has been a lot of talk regarding "read later" or "text-only reading" apps. This is mostly due to Readability launching their Android and iOS apps, but it warrants highlighting a great app that has been around for a long time. InstaFetch is an Instapaper app for Android. Unfortunately, there isn't an official Instapaper app for the Android platform at this time, but as someone who has used the service pretty much every single day of my life for the last 4 years, I can tell you that InstaFetch offers a great user experience.

Instapaper is a "read later" service that allows you to save links (via a bookmarklet in your desktop browser, the Share To menu in Android and tons of other ways) that you want to read sometime in the future. Where the service really shines, however, is in the feature that takes just the text (and a few pictures) from the article, and cuts out all of the 'crap' that you'd see if you were trying to read the article on the original source website.

You can see from the screenshot below, it becomes like reading website articles in an eBook format. It takes all the multiple pages, ads and other non-critical information that is displayed on the page, and removes them. Many people have heard of "distraction-free" writing applications for both desktop and mobile systems. I like to think of InstaPaper (and in turn, InstaFetch) as my distraction-free reading environment. As I scan stories throughout the day in my Google Reader RSS, I simply send those long-form stories that I want to read in the evenings to InstaPaper. When I'm home, or in line somewhere, I crank up InstaFetch on my phone and there's my articles in a wonderfully simple interface.

Why I like InstaFetch so much is pretty simple. It includes features that the official iOS InstaPaper offers, but that **no other** Android InstaPaper app can touch. It has folders support, which means that items I have moved to folders for longer-term retention are still available to me via the app. It also allows me to move articles into folders, which seems basic, but some other apps don't offer that. It has font and dark/light UI choices. I prefer to read on my mobile device with a black background and white text. This is both for eyestrain reduction and most importantly, battery life savings. The one feature that I have not used often (most likely due to my podcast addiction) is the Listen feature. InstaFetch will allow you to listen to the text of an article as the Android text-to-speech engine parses the text and reads it aloud. This is a really great feature, just not one that I have used a great deal. It even supports changing the pitch and speed of the voice, and supports using 3rd party voices that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. InstaFetch requires that you have an InstaPaper subscription, which is a whopping $1/month. For the ads that my eyes don't have to ignore alone, this is a great investment. _Edit: InstaFetch does not require an InstaPaper subscription, however, it is still a nice way to support the creator of the InstaPaper service/API that the InstaFetch app is making so great on Android._

I really believe that there are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to this stuff. Those that use InstaPaper, and those that don't. If you don't, you're either not consuming nearly as much content as those that are or, more likely, you're the bearer of the eyeballs that those ad companies are aiming to distract. Check out InstaPaper as a service and InstaFetch as a great Android app and see what its like to read with focus and efficiency.