How often do you find an interesting article online and think: I’ll read it later? And maybe you will. Chances are you won’t.
Perhaps the day will end with you staring at dozens of unread tabs you know you’ll never get to, and so you’ll sadly close them all – or your browser will do that job for you, by unceremoniously crashing. Or maybe your browsing history is split between multiple devices, meaning you can’t quite remember where – or when – you saw that interesting thing. Or possibly you’ll decide to read that fantastic article on the commute home – only to find your cellular connectivity is such it would struggle to receive a call, let alone a web page.
For all such circumstances – and more – you need a read-later service. This broadly acts like a DVR for the internet, stashing interesting articles so you can easily read (rather than merely access) them later – entirely at your leisure.
Keep it Simple
Some web browsers include read-later functionality (such as Safari’s Reading List), but you’re better off using a third-party service. That’s because they don’t tie you to any one device or operating system, and are specifically geared towards the read-later experience. This ensures you get a far more optimal solution.
This is starkly obvious when you consider presentation. Safari’s Reading List more or less clones any web page you save. By contrast, read-later services tend to strip away cruft, leaving you with only text and images. This gives you something that is far more readable and usable. You don’t have to look for the article content within a busy web page, because it’s right there in black and white – a heading and the article’s text – alongside relevant embedded images.
This kind of presentation mostly eradicates distractions. Links survive – and you can tap them to view the linked page/document in a browser (assuming you’re online). But the article content doesn’t have to fight for attention with everything else that usually clutters up a web page, such as advertising, and links to dozens of other articles.
Make it Routine
All read-later services work in much the same way, and in a manner that can be infused into your muscle memory. The basic process is to share an article with the read-later service from a browser or another app. If you’re using a desktop browser, you can use an extension that places the service’s button on your toolbar (if one is available) or a ‘bookmarklet’ you manually drag to your bookmarks/favorites bar. On mobile, you use your system’s standard share functionality.
Apps like social network clients and RSS readers often integrate with read-later services, too. So if you see an interesting headline on Twitter or Facebook, or want to ensure something isn’t ‘lost’ from your 30-day RSS feed, you can quickly send it to your read-later service, and check out the article whenever you want to.
On opening your read-later app, everything you shared to it will be downloaded. On Wi-Fi, this happens very rapidly – unless you’re stashing hundreds of articles per hour. It therefore makes sense to infuse your read-later app into your routine. Bar something you absolutely must read immediately, get into the habit of sending articles to the service as a matter of course. Then before you leave a Wi-Fi network, fire up your read-later app. You’ll subsequently be able to read all of your articles on a commute home, or on a flight.
The Best Read Later Services
Some of Instapaper’s text options
These read-later services have many similarities: they’re both free, with entirely optional paid tiers that remove adverts, and that add extra features like more powerful search and highlights; and along with being able to view your articles on mobile devices (Android and iPhone/iPad; Instapaper also supports Kindle), you can peruse your articles in a web browser as well. Pocket also has native Mac app.
The services even look similar when you use them on a phone. You get a list of article headlines, with thumbnails and reading time estimates. Tap one and you get a streamlined distraction-free version of the saved article.
There are, though, some key differences. Instapaper arguably has the better reading experience, with superior fonts, and more options for tweaking typography. Pocket on tablets gives you a friendly grid view to quickly spot interesting items you’ve saved, and has an excellent audio mode that reads articles back to you, like an ad-hoc podcast. This makes it suitable for when you’re driving or cooking.