This evening I made the switch from Read It Later to Instapaper. The latter is by far the more popular service. On the surface, it might be hard to choose one over the other. Their iPhone apps both cost $4.99 (Read It Later, Instapaper), they both have free-to-use websites, they both suck the text out of a web article you’re too busy to read at the moment of encounter, and store it online for later enjoyment. Well, at least that’s the idea.
It seems grabbing the right text off a page isn’t that easy, and RIL was just letting me down too many times. Quite often I’d have words like Home, About, and Related Articles – clearly bits of the navigational interface missed by the dust filter – appearing before or in the middle of the story I wanted to read. Sometimes they’d be the only words on display: the article itself having been weeded out and tossed aside, 90% of the page’s content or not!
The RIL text engine wasn’t very smart about pretending to be a normal browser either. Sometimes the policing mechanisms of a website would prevent it from loading the intended content and direct RIL to the front page instead. In the instances where I might only get around to reading the article months later, there’d be simply no way to remember what I was supposed to have been saving. Salon, Edge Magazine, Wired Mobile, and The New York Times all gave it trouble, among others.
There were reasons I stayed this long, though. Read It Later excels at being social. After reading an item I really liked, I could send it to Diigo for full-text archiving, or Evernote, or tweet it, Facebook it, bookmark it in Delicious, share it in Google Reader, or even email the plain text to a friend who might be interested. The Diigo bit was closest to my heart. But for every sweet feature – a full-screen view and a scrollbar for quick skimming are two examples worth mentioning – there’d also be the disadvantages of being second-best.
I think the reason Instapaper has such a knack for sniffing out the right words from a page is that dedicated users send Marco Arment emails whenever something doesn’t work right. By his own admission, the system is a pile of hacks, but as far as the end user (me) is concerned, it just works. I wish it didn’t always have to be about Features vs. Excellence, but Instapaper definitely wins the lower-my-blood-pressure challenge. RIL probably doesn’t get enough feedback to develop a comparably intelligent engine, but missing the first paragraph of every article on the New York Times? Come on.
Also, most apps install support for Instapaper first, and the wait for RIL integration is always long and uncertain. I don’t know if Nate Weiner, Read It Later’s developer, does anything to help adoption of his service along, but like in the case of the new Twitterrific for iPhone, users like me end up being the ones petitioning other app developers to please please please consider adding RIL support. It sucks.
Plus, in the time since I last saw Instapaper, it’s received a bunch of great new features like a paginated viewing method, and an enhanced presentation with inline graphics. I’ll miss RIL’s sharing features, and hope Instapaper adds just a couple more export options to the current choices of Tumblr & Twitter (Diigo, please!), but for the moment it’s enough that I can bookmark stuff and be secure in the knowledge that they’ll be waiting for me, complete, when I get to them.
The fact that this blog somehow appears in the screenshot for Instapaper in the App Store has nothing to do with it, I swear!