The news that Instapaper sold to Pinterest shocked me from my early evening domestic routine. At first, it seemed like a mistake. It didn’t even seem like something that could happen but, sure enough, there was a tweet to confirm it:
As I read the blog post, I forced myself to slow down so I wouldn’t miss some vital detail about the fate of my favourite “read it later” app. It was all a bit of a blur, I just couldn’t believe it was happening.
The key paragraph was this one, the rest of the post was mostly filed for later analysis:
For you, the Instapaper end user and customer, nothing changes. The Instapaper team will be moving from betaworks in New York City to Pinterest’s headquarters in San Francisco, and we’ll continue to make Instapaper a great place to save and read articles.
Of course, Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski was in typical form with a series of sarcastic tweets about the sale that included a hefty dose of “I told you so” (as you would expect). He made a few good points that concerned me more than a little and prompted me to think more about my investment in Instapaper:
To Instapaper users who are sad to see their favorite product die and in no mood for my gloating, rest assured: I feel your hilarious pain— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
What do people want most from the site that saves all their links? A brief lifespan, radical redesigns, and frequent changes of ownership— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
So far, more “I told you so”. And then he raised an issue I hadn’t thought much about:
Wait, is it true that you can’t export your full data from Instapaper? I guess you all have to take screenshots and get Evernote to OCR it.— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
You used a free-ish site that doesn’t let you export all your data, and now it sold out? Please /cc me on your lamentations— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
This next one worried me …
To be fair, the Instapaper restriction that limits you to exporting 2000 bookmarks makes the missing timestamps less important— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
… until someone replied with this:
I was able to export 12000 bookmarks with no problems— Anh (@quanganhdo) August 23, 2016
The way the conversation was going, you’d think the Instapaper service was being shut down.
The “we sold to Pinterest but nothing is changing” email is Instapaper’s equivalent of reassuring grandma about her move to a nursing home— Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 23, 2016
I’ll admit, I jumped to that horrible conclusion. I’ve seen many services that I loved and used just shut down out of the blue or languish after a bad acquisition.
Still, I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Instapaper’s CEO, Brian Donohue challenged Ceglowski’s suggestion that Instapaper was in financial dire straits and inspired enough hope to move beyond the panic and start assessing the news more rationally.
there were three of us, Maciej. We weren't losing money.— Brian Donohue (@bthdonohue) August 23, 2016
Straight and true
Marketing Land published an article that pointed out how this acquisition could actually make a lot of sense. In his article titled “How buying Instapaper could help Pinterest become a media portal like Facebook”, Tim Peterson highlighted the synergies between the two services:
People use Pinterest and Instapaper for similar reasons. The similarity is almost too close for the deal to make sense. Pinterest started out as a way for people to collect content from around the web for themselves and others to check out later. At first, people were mainly saving images, but they’ve also started saving articles, to the point that Pinterest considers that “a core use case.” But saving articles is the same reason people use Instapaper — its “core use case,” if you will. So why would Pinterest buy a company whose product largely duplicates its own?
It’s a fair question and, as Peterson suggests, this could be more about putting two similar services together and using the Instapaper team’s know-how to improve Pinterest. For now, at least, Instapaper doesn’t seem to be at risk of vanishing. According to Peterson:
Instapaper’s service will remain available post-acquisition, and Pinterest has no plans to put ads in Instapaper, according to a Pinterest spokesperson.
Still, so soon after the news I panicked and downloaded Pocket to my iPad. I have an IFTTT recipe running that adds stories I save to Instapaper to my Pocket queue so I wouldn’t lose much if Instapaper inexplicably vanished.
I also created a series of IFTTT recipes that captured my Instapaper notes and highlights into MultiMarkdown-formatted notes after the Great Pinboard Shock of 2016 so I wouldn’t lose too much of that data either.
The big loss, to me, would be the loss of an app that I use daily and really enjoy using. Pocket could be an acceptable replacement (I used Pocket regularly for a while before I decided to switch back to Instapaper). While I’d lose some functionality if I had to switch, switching would be more a matter of installing the various Pocket extensions and apps.
Will Pinterest be a good steward for Instapaper and give the team the tools it needs to keep making Instapaper better? I hope so. Ultimately, if it all goes badly, there are other options. If Pocket doesn’t capture my affection, I could always switch to Evernote even though the reading experience isn’t even close. I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the time being, I don’t need to (or want to) change anything. I pay for my Instapaper subscription for a year at a time and, assuming the service will continue operating as promised, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing (after a quick backup of my links).