Finding a reading system that works (or, an Instapaper vs Pocket showdown)

I read a lot of internet. A lot.

A few months ago, I read Diana’s story about how she reads online and captures the bits that interest her. She talked about a “digital commonplace book” which was a term I’d never heard before, but liked. She said that an ability to find and save interesting tidbits on particular topics was important for having complex, nuanced ideas. I thought that sounded super smart.

At the time, I was reading my internet via Pocket. Each week, I’d peruse my favourite sources, save them to Pocket and then read them on my iPad. (I use feedly for the blogs and send the articles I wanna read in depth to Instapaper on my iPad. It’s free on the iPad, but a premium feature on desktop which is a little annoying.) Occasionally, I’d post a round up of my favourites over here.

Curating the links was a labour intensive process and I couldn’t highlight and save the lines I particularly liked. I like to underline & write notes when I’m reading.

After reading Diana’s pieced (& then Marius’s), I switched to Instapaper. I got the paid version so I could have unlimited highlights. I have a public ‘likes’ feed which replaces the need to curate my lists on Tumblr. I do miss curating these lists a little — it was fun to revisit the things I’d enjoyed, but this new system saves me A LOT of time. Time that I can devote to reading.

This is perhaps too much thought to be giving to one’s reading process but, I must admit, the whole system brings me a lot of satisfaction. My ‘to read’ Q is perma-stacked at over 3,000 articles which is entirely unrealistic but also kind of thrilling. Like having the fridge stocked with your favourite foods. I’m trying to be choosier about what I commit to reading.

To the makers of these services though, there are some things I’d like improved:

When I search for something, I’d like to be able to open it in app, not in a browser screen. Most likely, I’m searching so I can read/highlight it. (My workaround is to google it and re-save it so that it’ll be at the top of my list. Very annoying.)

It’d be great to have some sort of browser extension to show when I’ve already saved a piece. (Pocket has this.)

I like the folders a lot. Thank you for those. And sharing to Twitter/Tumblr is seamless and fun too. Looking at my folder labels, I get a pretty good snapshot of what I’m interested in right now. It’s eclectic to say the least: ISIS, how one looks, productivity & about a dozen more.

I’d like to be able to search by publication, and to add an article while reading another. (What can I say? I’m a flighty reader.)


If you’d have given me the ability to highlight, I probably wouldn’t have left your service & I would have been happy to pay for it.

If you want me back, you’re going to need to let me import my list from other services. (Another big selling point for Instapaper — I could seamlessly transfer over my Pocket reading list.)

Pocket, I adored your stats. Last year, you said I was among the top 1% of readers and it’s still among my favourite compliments.

I prefer the design, layout & interface of Pocket. It’s smoother and the articles are consistently flawless. Instapaper, you tend to be a bit buggy and the text can be a bit mangled sometimes (captions repeated, layout mangled).

An honourable mention for Longform’s Reading App which I love, but haven’t really committed sufficient time to. I will come visit you more often.

This is perhaps too much time (& too many words) to commit to one’s reading system. Though as someone who devours internet content, finding a system that works has been thoroughly worth it. Thanks for the inspiration, Diana.