Categories
Applications Semantic Web

Instapaper sold to Pinterest – at first I was afraid

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:

So far, more “I told you so”. And then he raised an issue I hadn’t thought much about:

This next one worried me …

… until someone replied with this:

Abandon ship?

The way the conversation was going, you’d think the Instapaper service was being shut down.

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.

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).

Categories
Applications Business and work Tutorials Writing

How Instapaper could be an even better research tool

Instapaper has become so much more than a reading app to me. It has become a fantastic research tool too. As good as it is, it could be better (or, at least, it could do one thing better). Bear with me, I’ll explain.

As you may know, Instapaper introduced highlighting and commenting (or Notes) some time back. If you are using the “free” service you are limited to just 5 notes a month but if you become a Premium user for a mere $29.99 for a year (or $2.99 for a month), you have all the awesomeness that is Instapaper available to you.

My work involves a fair amount of writing. I typically write around 3,000 to 4,000 words a week in the form of blog posts for my employer’s blog. I also write guest posts for industry websites now and then and edit blog posts that my colleagues have written. My writing tool is Byword and I am a big fan. Reaching the point where I write those articles usually means doing a fair amount of research. That involves finding useful materials, saving them to Instapaper where possible and later going through my saved items in Instapaper to review them more closely.

Comments and highlights in Instapaper
Comments and highlights in Instapaper

At that point I use the highlighting and commenting tools a lot to pick out phrases and ideas that I want to incorporate into my articles. I created IFTTT recipes (here and here) that take highlights and comments and add them to running Evernote notes for each article.

The results are nicely laid out Evernote notes with all my highlighted texts and comments. It’s a useful way to aggregate all those highlights and comments in a central reference that I can go back to when it is time to write my article.

Comments from Instapaper collated in an Evernote note
Comments from Instapaper collated in an Evernote note

Instapaper has a Notes tab which has a list of all your highlights and comments but I haven’t used that. I’ve been using Evernote for years so it seemed like a good idea to just send my highlights and comments there rather than use the Instapaper option.

Instapaper's Notes view
Instapaper’s Notes view

I was home sick for a few days last week and my idea of rest was to research and start writing a mini-thesis about ad blocking and different perspectives on it and solutions for the challenges it creates. At one point I was highlighting and commenting so much I received a rate limiting warning from IFTTT telling me that I was about to hit an hourly limit on items sent to Evernote (I didn’t know such a limit even existed).

At the end of my research phase I had a dozen or two Evernote notes with dozens of items in each which I thought would be useful in my article. What hit me is how relatively unproductive this workflow is where I have a lot of material to review after the initial research. Making all those notes and highlights practically useful requires me to go through my Evernote notes and manually extract all of those items into some sort of outline of my article. My favourite outliner is OmniOutliner but any OPML-based outliner would work just about as well.

Usually I don’t use an outliner too because my articles aren’t generally as complex as this ad blocking piece. In this case, an outliner became essential. I was working on my outline and I realised that as terrific Instapaper is as a research tool, being able to automatically export all those highlights and notes into an outline that I could manipulate afterwards would be far more effective than flat Evernote notes.

The benefit of an outliner is that I can drag lines around and re-order the outline pretty easily. I could possibly even create an initial draft of the article in the outliner and finish it off in Byword or another word processor. It would really depend on how I structured my outline and how much of the article I’d want to write in it. In this case, I still did my writing in Byword but I split my screen and placed my outline on one side of my screen as a reference and wrote in the Byword window.

My split screen OmniOutliner-Byword perspective
My split screen OmniOutliner-Byword perspective

An alternative to this option is to just use Scrivener which is an excellent writing app. I started my article in Scrivener because it has an outlier function and the capacity to collect research materials in the app itself but I switched back to my Byword/OmniOutliner combo option – I just felt this strong need to stick with plain text in a simpler writing window.

Because my outline was more of a secondary outline after I finished my initial research, I still had to go back to Evernote to find individual quotes and arguments and combine material from both sources into my article. If I had been able to automatically send highlights and comments straight into an outliner, it would have placed all my reference materials into one outline from the start and made it a lot easier to structure that data for reference when I started writing.

So, my wish list for 2016 (I’m putting this out into the ether in case it is possible to make this a reality) is for some option to automatically export highlights and comments into coherent outlines just as I can create a similar workflow for Evernote. One possible solution is to create an integration with Dave Winer’s Fargo.io outliner. It should be something simple and create an OPML file that you can manipulate later to create the basis of an article or similar document.

Image credit: Writing by Unsplash, released under a CC0 dedication

Categories
Applications

How Instapaper made me cry big tears of joy

I use Instapaper every day and the day the app was updated to add highlights was a very happy one. Today’s update adds, among other things, notes that sync! Yes, Instapaper made me cry big tears of joy today.

Love this app! Look, there is even a happy demo video:

Categories
Applications Mindsets

Insta-maintenance

I love it when brands create more playful versions of error pages and app update texts. The usual “bug fixes and improvements” narratives really don’t inspire much passion. Instapaper is one of those brands that has some fun with messages like this maintenance placeholder.

I see most of these fun variations in app update narratives on my devices. This Medium app update narrative is pretty good too:

Poetic Medium app update narrative

Very poetic!

Categories
Travel and places

Quiet tea and something to read

Enjoying some quiet time in our hotel room at the Tsogo Sun Silverstar Hotel with some reading material and tea.

20140531-073226-27146783.jpg

20140531-073227-27147589.jpg

Categories
Useful stuff

Is Pocket Premium worth it?

I noticed this update to Pocket this morning.

Pocket, the service that lets users save articles, videos and other types of content to consume later on mobile devices and the web, is adding a paid tier. On Wednesday, the company launched Pocket Premium, which adds permanent archiving (rather than just link caching), tagging and search capabilities on top of its basic free capabilities. Pocket Premium is $4.99 a month or $44.99 a year.

(Via GigaOM)

My first thought was that my Instapaper subscription already gives me access to my archives with full text search but then, again, Instapaper doesn’t capture copies of all my articles as far as I am aware.

On the other hand, I can capture copies of the stuff I want to retain with Evernote (I am about to renew my Evernote subscription for another year). There is probably a way to configure a recipe in IFTTT to automatically capture items saved in Pocket (or Instapaper for that matter) into Evernote. You can already save full articles in Evernote from Pocket and Instapaper manually.

Another option is to use an app like Reeder to save articles to Evernote too (also a manual process).

I like Pocket. I’ve switched back to Instapaper because of the highlighting feature (which prompted me to renew my subscription – $3 for 3 months) and it works pretty well for me. The Instapaper parser could use some work so I still have Pocket as a backup.

Still, for people who are not Evernote users, just want to save stuff and keep it for later reference and like Pocket (there is a lot to like) then the Premium subscription isn’t a bad deal at all.

(Update 2014-06-08): I just realised there is another option that works pretty much the same way as the Pocket archival option. Pinboard, the awesome bookmarking service, offers this as a $25 a year premium upgrade:

For a small annual fee, Pinboard can download and store a copy of every page you bookmark, for your own private use.

Enabling archiving will also enable full-text search for your bookmarks.

Categories
Mindsets

Make a decision and don't be an ass about it

I’m warning you now, this is going to seem like a pretty petty post but here I go anyway.

I was sitting with my iPad last night catching up on some reading. I have developed a habit of saving stuff I want to read to both Instapaper and Pocket. Both are terrific apps and each does a couple things better than the other. At the moment I am leaning more towards Instapaper but I’ll probably swing back to Pocket at some point for a while. That is sort of how I use app alternatives, I switch between them from time to time.

I noticed that my Instapaper subscription was marked as “inactive” and when I investigated I discovered that I had just paid for 3 months, although I had paid using a PayPal subscription I’ve been using since 2010 and it occurred to me that I hadn’t updated the payment references since Betaworks bought Instapaper from its creator, Marco Arment.

Instapaper subscriptions are a way to support app development and includes features like archive searches. It is a terrific app so I am happy to pay my $3 for 3 months at a time. When I saw that I had paid and that my subscription wasn’t active I became a bit annoyed and my first thought was to do what so many Twitterati members do when faced with something that displeases them: declare hatred for the service that didn’t live up to my absurd expectations as publicly as I could before moving completely to the competition. Because that is the mature way to really show them!!

That moment really caught my attention and I realised that so many of us have developed this self-righteous attitude and rather than being a real grown-up and resolving a situation, going public on Twitter with our few hundred or thousand followers seems like the way to throw our perceived weight around. I’m still including myself in this because although I have made a point of not being such a drama jerk online for a while now, my first thought was to be just that. Clearly I still have some way to go to reach a more balanced perspective on life and what it doesn’t owe me.

I sent an email to Instapaper querying this and I received a pretty quick response apologising and confirming that my subscription was loaded. What occurred to me is that it is usually better to try and resolve an issue maturely before exploding in 140 characters. The second thing I realised is that, sometimes, we should just make a decision instead of constantly switching between multiple options. This last lesson is still a little hypothetical because I still like Pocket and Instapaper and still save stuff to both but, really, I should just pick one and be happy with my choice.

We seem to have a knack for complicating our lives far more than we should, if we should.

Also, try not to be such an ass. You are probably not as important on Twitter as you think you are so develop some perspective.