How to curate your own reading list with the Instapaper and Pocket apps
We are all swamped with information, yet we also can't help ourselves looking out more for both work and pleasure. When you need to collate articles or you just want a good read, use Pocket or Instapaper. AppleInsider goes browsing to explain why and how.
This has happened to you. While you're very busy at work or on a project, you somehow come across an interesting article on the web and you just cannot read it yet. Certainly that's at least partly because you're conscientious and you know you're busy, but there's more. If you read it now, you would hurry and this is something you want to actually enjoy.
So read it later instead. Find this piece on your Mac at work and then read it later on your iPad. You could bookmark things but get Pocket or Instapaper instead.
We've been able to bookmark articles since the dawn of the web but bookmarking feels permanent. Bookmarking feels like research work. And bookmarking is also useless because if you can save the site and then never remember to go back to it.
Or, much worse, you diligently revisit your bookmarked websites and now the article you wanted to read is gone. It will certainly have vanished from the front page and some sites are a pain to search — but it could also have been completely deleted.
So, use a Read It Later service instead. This isn't a panacea for everything, most especially not for you stockpiling articles you never get around to reading.
It also isn't a guarantee that article will still be available to you next year, unless you pay a subscription fee. Nonetheless, whichever service you use, you get two very strong benefits.
A good read
The first is that you are just saving articles you like, so when you turn to one of these services later, you know that everything in there is interesting to you. Plus these services are very specifically aimed at reading — they present the articles in a way that better suits extended periods of reading.
Consequently they feel like you're picking up a gorgeously-designed magazine that's been created solely for you.
There are many ways to save articles on the besides bookmarking but the two main Read It Later services are these rivals Instapaper and Pocket. They are the Word and Pages kind of competitors, they are the Excel versus Numbers in this field.
Except that's making this a bit too dramatic. It's not that there are rallies where Instapaper fans argue with Pocket ones. If you get either of these apps, you're going to be using them in almost identical ways and will be almost identically happy with them.
There are enough subtle differences in design and taste, though, that it's worth trying them both before committing to them. And by committing we do mean saving hundreds or thousands of articles, but we also mean potentially spending some cash.
Each of these two operates a free version which is sufficiently generous that you need never know they have a paid edition. Yet there are of course reasons to buy — after you've become used to reading on these services.
Services and apps like these two are referred to as Read It Later ones in part because that precisely describes what they're for — and partly because Pocket was originally called Read It Later.
Pocket — previously Read It Later — was launched first in 2007, while Instapaper came out in 2008. Both started as basic bookmarking services and slowly expanded until they are now apps and services.
When you find an article on the web at your Mac or on an iOS device, you tap the browser's Share button and send it to Instapaper or Pocket. With both it takes a moment and you get a brief notification that the article has been saved.
With Pocket, you also get a tag button in that notification. If you're fast enough, you can tap it and add some descriptive tags. You can write a new one or pick from Pocket's list of tags you've previously used.
That makes it easy to mark this article as, say, sports, and that one as politics, for instance. With the list in front of you, you're also more consistent: you don't tag one article as sport and another as sports.
There are other ways
Sharing is now in practically all macOS and iOS apps — though, significantly, not in Apple Mail — so it's the way we most often use these services. However, both Pocket and Instapaper also let you email articles into your account.
Both also come with extensions for Safari on the Mac. Install them once and forever after you've got a button that saves the current article into your account.
Or, copy a URL from a website, an email, a book, or anywhere else and when you open their apps, both Pocket and Instapaper offer to add that web article to your list.
Then both apps or services can also be used with Workflow, letting you automate collecting series of articles at once.
Set and forget
Now you just carry on with your day. When you've got some time to yourself, open up Pocket or Instapaper to have a good time reading.
Notice how casually we say that, though. This is what it becomes like: you turn to one of these services to read and you don't think about which machine you're using. You just turn to your Mac, pick up your iPhone or lean back with your iPad.
The Instapaper app is a free download on the iOS App Store. Pocket has a free version on both the iOS and the Mac App Stores.
Even without the app, you can read either service on the Mac by signing in to instapaper.com or — note the slightly different name — getpocket.com.
Equally, if you're a Kindle user then you can read Pocket on that or Kobo devices. Instapaper also supports Kindle but only as part of its paid version.
What you get and what it means
Your Read It Later service app will be loaded with articles you want to read. Each article, though, will be presented to you in a consciously bare way. They'll include images — though in our experience Pocket is more consistent about how it displays those — but really it's about the text.
The defaults are all quite restful and on a modern iPhone or iPad, it is a genuine pleasure to read material in either app.
Sometimes you will see that something is wrong. There will be an abrupt end to an article or a segment is repeated.
Breaks or repeats like that are invariably down to how the original website published the article. It might've split a piece into several pages, though both Pocket and Instapaper usually figure that out.
Or, that repeated text can be that the article used a quote as a heading. While it doesn't happen a lot, it crops up enough that you get used to seeing this repeated text and just ignore it.
What you can do, though, and what you always will when you suspect an article has been truncated, is switch to viewing it on the web. Instapaper for iOS includes a button to open the article in Safari. Pocket has a browser built in.
Instapaper and Pocket both have an audio option, too: you can get either app to read your articles. With the paid version of Instapaper, you can create a playlist of articles in any order so you could have it read to you on your commute.
When you're done reading or listening, both apps let you delete the articles, archive them, or share them with others.
All of the core functions that make us use and relish Read It Later services are free. That means everything you've just read apart from how Instapaper requires you to have a paid Premium version before you can save articles to your Kindle or listen to audio versions.
You can choose, though, to pay a subscription to either of them. With Pocket, the premium version costs $4.99 per month or $44.99 per year. With Instapaper, it's $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year.
With both services, paying a fee gets you a permanent library. If you save it to Pocket or Instapaper, it stays there even if the article is removed from the web. Maybe we've just been lucky but in many years of using these, we've only had a few articles disappear on us.
In fact, it wasn't until checking the Premium features for you that we even realized Pocket doesn't keep all of your articles as you saved them. We'd best get reading.
Premium users of either service also gain better features for searching through your articles and they lose ads. For once, we've not been fussed about ads: in Pocket, for instance, they just appear as sponsored or suggested articles and often enough it's something we're interested in.
There are alternatives
The free versions of both Instapaper and Pocket are so generous that truly may never need to upgrade to the paid ones. Then if you do, the cost of those subscriptions is far lower than you'd ever pay for a newspaper or magazine.
Where you might hesitate over getting either of them is when you already have apps that do something similar. These two are specifically for reading later but there are others that collect web articles or can be made to.
If you're a heavy Evernote user, for instance, then you might find it just fits in better with your working day to save articles to that. Evernote includes a Web Clipper designed for exactly this. It also integrates with Google so that a general search on the web can also turn up results from your own Evernote collection.
Or perhaps you already spend hours in the research tool DEVONthink. This is practically a squirrel at gathering information into one place and its iOS version comes with a Share Extension that means you can save to it from just about any other app.
Each time you save to it, though, you do have to keep tapping to confirm what format you want the article saved in. Once you've tried all the options such as bookmark or Web Archive, you'll know what suits you — but you still have to tap every time.
Still, the sole problem we've ever had with Read It Later services or any kind of web collecting tool is that we forget we've got them. Or we might get into the habit of saving many articles to them but we don't get around to reading them.
Rather than adding a new app to the mix, when you've already got one that collects articles for you to forget about, stick with those.
Otherwise, get Pocket or Instapaper. They are both fast for saving articles and they are both very good at creating an enjoyable, pleasant reading experience.
It would be great to be able to definitively say one is better than the other but that's not going to happen. It would be pretty good to be able to say that there are significant differences but, again, not so much.
We looked at this now because Instapaper has recently come under new management. Some years ago, the developer's app was bought by Pinterest and now it's been bought out into a new company devoted to it.
In the meantime, we'd moved to Pocket and thought we'd end up recommending that. We thought we might be recommending Pocket just through our familiarity with it so we were watching out for that.
And instead it's a complete dead heat.
If you'll accept some scraping of a barrel, then maybe we'd argue that Pocket is better at visual articles: we've used it a lot to save pieces with YouTube links.
However, we were struck by just how pleasurable it is to read in Instapaper and that's truly the point of these apps.