Giving Pocket a Second Chance

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When Read It Later presented its completely revamped self as Pocket, I dusted off my account credentials and gave it a quick look. Five minutes later and I had already turned my nose up at it, playing the role of the Instapaper I-payed-$5-for-this-app-and-now-a-better-and-free-alternative-comes-along snob.

I’m not sure why I didn’t give it a proper chance back in April, but thankfully I decided to give it a second chance today. So here are 4 reasons I favour in Pocket over Instapaper.

1. Interface | Design | Experience

Pocket is beautiful. Really, it’s pretty to look at, responds snappily like any good web app should which takes it beyond a static experience. Instapaper is static, less easy to use and somewhat ironically, has a terribly cluttered interface (in my experience).

Both the website and iOS version of Pocket have two great article display modes, one more like a magazine, and a details/ list view. I am easily able to filter articles by date, title, site, tags or media type.

2. Considerate Media Handling

The team at Pocket is actively tweaking its ‘Article View’ engine (for reading later, distraction free) so it will always display content how it is intended. Whether it be images, videos or lengthy articles from The Verge, Pocket will handle it gracefully.

Instapaper can be a bit hit and miss and while no reading view will be perfect, at least Pocket is showing it cares.

3. Search

Pocket comes with search, for free! Instapaper charges $1/month to use article search. This lets me replace my old (and pretty crappy, to be honest) system of exporting to Delicious. I don’t really use this much, but just the thought of being able to cut free from yet another service makes this a very welcome feature.

However, I found a bug (I think) when searching in the Archive. See this link.

4. Price

This isn’t really a huge issue for me any more, but for agnostics not yet devoted to either service, I’m sure it will be a huge deciding factor. Instapaper is ~$5 for the iOS app and $1/month for some other features. Pocket is all free.

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There are still some things I miss from Instapaper/ would like to see in Pocket. So here is my Pocket wishlist:

  • Better pagination on mobile. Include features like the smooth transition and bullet point progress bar from Instapaper.
  • More readily available links to original content. Currently Pocket only makes the domain available from the reading list, not the original link. You must click through to the ‘Article View’ to find the original (unless I’m missing something).
  • Business model. I don’t want to see ads start appearing in my feed, nor do I want to see Pocket fade away. How are they going to monetize their new product? I only want to support you, Pocket.

I still haven’t completely removed Instapaper from my life. It still holds a prime position in my Chrome bookmarks bar (both my Unread list and the bookmarklet) and it’s still on my iPhone’s home screen.

I think as life goes on, I will fall into the Pocket camp entirely, as they have shown they are willing to change for the better and the change will be ongoing. Instapaper, with its one man army, will struggle, I fear, to keep its position of supremacy. Pocket has opened up bookmarking to the masses it seems, as Evernote has done with note syncing and Dropbox with file sharing; by presenting it in a friendly, easy to use way, that doesn’t feel geeky. And yes… I think Pocket has the kind of potential where it is appropriate to be compared to those companies…

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Digital Note Showdown | Part 2: Evernote

I have been a hot-and-cold user of Evernote for a few years now. By that, I mean I go through phases where I can’t live without it, then don’t touch it for weeks on end. I think the thing that always pulls me back though is the surrounding hype regarding Evernote. Everyone seems to love it. Every time I hear another interesting use for it, I give it a go and inevitably give up because most of the use cases require too much time investment. Is Evernote really that necessary though? I’m now going to explore the possibility of removing it entirely from my workflow.

First, lets consider how I use it now. I am not a big ‘tagger’ because this too, is too much of a time investment for me; to get a harmonious system up and running, and then implement it. I much prefer to have a couple of different notebooks and just text search for the rest.

My 7 Notebooks are:

  • Archive
Used to store articles I find online and ‘Like’ in Instapaper; Software serial keys; Personal numbers; Product warranties and guides; any other note I am not currently working on/ using.
  • Food
Recipes; beers with ratings.
  • Inbox (Default)
Bucket to collect all incoming or otherwise unsortable notes.
  • Programming
Help and links for various languages; tid bits I pick up and often forget.
  • References
Research sources for various projects, with note title being <Author, Date> to help with referencing later.
  • Travel
Contains scans of nick nacks and business cards I’ve collected in my travels, sorted by holiday.
  • Uni
Tracking which subjects I’ve completed/ need to complete.

I’ll be honest: I hardly refer back to notes anywhere other than in my Inbox. Every now and then I get in a ‘Spring Cleaning’ frame of mind and delete notes I haven’t touched since creation and don’t see myself needing in any foreseeable future. But I really get no utilitarian value out of my usage of Evernote. The reason for this is there are better ways to do many of the things I use it for, yet I continue to pursue the idea of Evernote being useful. For example, for storing links (like Archive, Food and Programming), Instapaper does a better job of formatting and making them available offline.

However there are some features that make Evernote incredibly useful. The inbuilt OCR imaging is fantastic and I am yet to find a better (and free) alternative. It isn’t the fact that images can be turned into text. It is the fact that Evernote stores an invisible database of words that appear in the image, which you can then search and locate in the original image. Secondly, the ability to add contextual information to a document such as a PDF, DOC, etc. is also incredibly useful. I can store the original, untouched file in Evernote, then append my own notes above/ below the document. The final thing that stops me from culling Evernote is the ability to create your own notes. I know this sounds kind of anti-climactic and obvious, but I seem to often overlook it. I can create rich text notes if I like, or plain text. Include images, check boxes and bullet points. I can supplement the recipes I find online with my own amendments or originals. If a saved webpage contains too much cruft, I can manually fix it.

Ultimately, it is the unique combination of rich note generation, website clipping, OCR and powerful search features that give Evernote staying power. It isn’t without its flaws, but I am prepared to put up with them because it does so may other things right. Sure, the rich text formatting is worse than most other products, and half the time the font selected isn’t actually the one being used. And sure, it isn’t as pretty or clean as Springpad or Instapaper, but it is powerful and versatile. And yes, I hate having to manage multiple services to do similar things, and yes I want an optimized workflow, but if you use a computer more than once a week, there is probably some way that Evernote can help you. Download it now and give it a go.


Quick Tip: Searchable Reading Archive

Sure, this is pretty easy to achieve using Pinboard/ Instapaper/ Readability for a cost, however this technique is totally free.

Services used: Instapaper, ifttt & Delicious [1].

  1. Save all online content you want in your archive to Instapaper, using your favourite method.
  2. Make an ifttt task to send your archive’s RSS feed from Instapaper (link down the bottom of your Instapaper folder) to Delicious as a public [2] bookmark.
  3. Search your links at the following URL, replacing “%s” with your search term,

http://delicious.com/search?p=%s&jtf=Y&partial_type=N

Notes

1. If you already use Delicious, append a unique tag during Step 2, in order to separate your other bookmarks from your archive.
2. The bookmark needs to be public, otherwise search may not work.