Reading on the Internet 101
Where to go to find great stuff to read
This post is intended for several types of people:
(a) coming of age - you realized that the internet is for more than Facebook and porn and would like to figure out where to find great content
(b) ex-Google Readers - you spent the last decade reading RSS feeds; your game is up and you’re looking for alternatives
(c) users of any of the services/sites/tools mentioned below looking for additional sources of cool stuff to read
Whatever your reason for reading this, welcome, enjoy and please let me know what I’m missing!
This group gets the first shout out because they help me with my long-standing obsession: paying for content. If you’re in the least bit interested in sustainability of writing on the web, you should consider paying for some of these services. Really, it’s less than the price of a Starbucks drink in many cases.
Longreads (web, email)
Longreads was started as a hash-tag (#longreads) on Twitter by Mark Armstrong and has since added a website, a weekly newsletter and a premium service. The free newsletter delivers the top 5 longreads of the week. Paying members receive content in their inbox that can’t be found anywhere online. Like the time when Mike Albo went to a junket.
Matter (web, app)
A sort-of (but-yes-really) publisher of in-depth high-quality long-form journalism that started as one of those uber-successful Kickstarter campaigns. Their story about people who don’t like their limbs blew my mind and made me take out my plastic.
NSFW Corp (web, print!)
“Future of journalism (with jokes)” is how they describe themselves and for a good reason: apart from great content, NSFW has also brought two innovations to the table: (1) the Conflict Tower and (2) “unlocking” articles - 10 times a month, you can unlock an article for 48 hours to share it with friends. As if that wasn’t enough, they also added a print magazine because print is dead. Last issue’s story about a Russian model / bodyguard was one of those stories that starts like an innocent vignette and then turns into a deeply insightful portrait of a whole country.
The Magazine (web, app)
Created by Marco Arment (founder of Instapaper), The Magazine publishes 5 articles every other week, typically about technology and digital stuff. Its simple & pleasant design has already inspired some copycats.
The Awl’s Weekend Companion (app)
Here’s what they say about it: “It’s incredibly important right now for publishers whose income largely derives from advertising to, well, we hate to use a business school word like “diversify,” but, yeah: diversify. At the same time, subscription products give readers a chance to be, essentially, members.” Agreed.
Atavist (web, app)
The Atavist is a part publisher, part platform for other publishers to produce rich stories. I’ll admit I haven’t bought any yet (shame on me), but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Here.
The Best of Journalism (email)
Twice a week, The Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf sends you 3 great reads. It doesn’t get simpler and sweeter than that. However, rather than just circulating stuff that’s hot on Twitter, Conor often includes older gems - stuff that you would otherwise be unlikely to stumble upon - like this breath-taking account of being Jewish in a state prison.
In addition to cataloging the hell out of content (when you sign up you can follow writers and get recommendations of similar writers), Byliner also produces incredible original content. That New York Times “Snow Fall” story that got all sorts of awards? That was a Byliner original.
Aggregators & Curators
Longreads (web, email) - see Premium above (but there’s lots of free stuff!)
Longform (web, app, email)
If I had to name one difference between Longreads and Longform (in addition to a snazzy $2.99 app), I would highlight the Longform Podcast, which I know is a bit off topic since you are presumably here to read. BUT, listening to magazine writers talk about writing is every bit as fun, I promise.
Digg (web, app)
Digg is what happens when you have access to insane amounts of social data, smart editors and talented designers. Their beautiful site and apps point out interesting content which you can save to and consume in the embedded reader.
The Feature (web)
“A hand-picked selection of the finest articles and essays saved with Instapaper.” Enough said.
The Browser (web)
Each day they recommend a few good things to read. It’s free to a point and then $12/yr.
Byliner (web) - see Premium above
Next Draft (app, email)
Every afternoon, Dave Pell send out a daily email with the most interesting news and articles of the day, surrounded by some light commentary.
News.me (app, email)
Every morning you receive a list of articles that people you follow on Twitter shared. Multiple people sharing something elevates it to the top. If you follow more than a hundred people, it’s an essential resource to keep on top of what people you care about are reading.
The Best of Journalism (email) - see Premium above
Every week they feature stories on a different topic - all relevant to New York. No description could do justice to all the stuff that’s on there - and because it’s free, it will only cost you a few clicks to find out. For example, see the “My First Time” edition.
Byliner (web) - see Premium above (but there’s lots of free stuff!)
The Magazine (app) - see Premium above
The Awl’s Weekend Companion (app) - see Premium above
Atavist (web, app) - see Premium above
Reading long content on the internet would be highly annoying if not impossible without these time shifting apps. While the basic “save-for-later” functionality is comparable in all of them, each has a unique design and some different features. My personal preference is for Pocket because they clearly have the man power to constantly evolve and innovate - for example, their recent “Send to Friend” allows you to send stuff directly to someone else’s Pocket. But the recent acquisition of Instapaper by Betaworks most certainly means we should expect changes and updates in that product soon, which could be interesting!
Like with time-shifting tools, there are many similarities and more differences. I’m a quote-geek, so I like how Quote.fm organizes sharing around excerpts of text. Dotdotdot allows this, too, though I found that experience to be somewhat … clunkier. (As a side note, both companies are German and seemingly so is much of their user base. It is fascinating that even with a digital product, the geography of a startup determines its user base.)
Kippt aims for a lot more than just bookmarking articles - which could be interesting, or unnecessary, depending on your perspective.
My favorite is the somewhat scrappy Reading.am - and it’s not because of incredible design or unexpected hooks. It simply just works. Most importantly, however, I like it because every morning at 8am it sends me a list of links that people I follow have posted. I have no idea who any of them are (I think founders and friends?), but they are into technology and design and 90% of the stuff they read I don’t find anywhere else, which is neat.
Some Twitter Accounts to Follow
Best Magazine Articles Ever
David Brooks’ Sidney Awards
2012 (part 1, part 2), 2011: (part 1, part 2), 2010 (part 1, part 2), 2009 (part 1, part 2), 2008, 2007 (part 1, part 2), 2006 (part 1, part 2), 2005, 2004 (part 1, part 2).