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Instapaper Goes From Hobby To Startup (bits.blogs.nytimes.com)
132 points by pathik on Sept 23, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

It's nice to see Marco Arment pursuing another fine example of the Patio11-esque approach of building a minimum viable product in his spare time, gradually improving and expanding it while keeping the day job, growing his userbase, and then smoothly transitioning into making it a full-time gig, all without talk of crazy hours, scrambling for investors, or even subsistence on ramen.

Obviously this doesn't work for every kind of startup, but it's great to see it working where it can.

Don't compare him to Patrick or he'll be next on lionhearted's chopping block!

The thing that has always made me hesitant to use Instapaper and services like it (in particular the ability to read stuff on an e-ink reader later) is for me a major part of the value of most of what I read, is the comments on HN. When you move the content to a reader device, you lose that. Has anyone though of a solution to this other than read the article and then hop on HN and try to find it?

I personally find that there's nearly no overlap between articles with comments (at least those which I'm interested in) and those I read on Instapaper. Think that's because I don't tend to put short "news" items on Instapaper, just long form articles.

I find the opposite true - for me it seems like HN is a great way to find those longer, more detailed, articles that I use Instapaper for all the time.

You could always put the comments page on Instapaper instead.

I haven't tried that recently, but the Instapaper text extractor didn't use to parse HN comment pages at all.

Does anyone know how he promoted it? I'm having a bit of trouble with my startup (historious), in that I don't know how I should go about promoting it...

I'm in the same general space as you (bookmarking / browsing tools), and I have some insight.

I think Instapaper gets a lot of word of mouth spreading because it's an iPhone App. That encompasses a lot more than it sounds. Being an iWhatever App means you get eyeballs from the store, but more importantly from its users - both online and in real life. iPhone/Pad/etc applications are highly sociable and shareable; revealing a useful App to somebody is a form of social value. It's a platform that is in vogue right now: How many times have you been recommended a certain App, or have seen somebody using an interesting one? Ok, now how many times have you been recommended a bookmarklet?

You were blogged a few times, that should have helped somewhat. It's possible that Historious isn't as useful as you think it is. I had written in this box a big long paragraph about why I think that is, but it's not pertinent to your question about promotion. If you'd like more of my thoughts on Historious, shoot me an e-mail, I'd be glad to give you my $.02.

There was also a post around here that detailed a template and methodology for 'pitching' an article about your product to bloggers. The gist of it was: You need to be actively seeking bloggers and promoters, you need to show them you're interested in their work, and you need to pitch them your product in a way that makes them feel their readers will click to read about it.

I see, thanks for your feedback. Could you email me at support at historio dot us, as I don't have your email?

Thanks again!

Hello, I tried historious just now and indeed, it seems a good product. I think you have to find some compelling reason, why one would switch to your service from others. Also, a big improvement would be, if one can try your service without the need of registering - like the Instapaper. I must say that generally I simply don't have a motivation to try another bookmarking service just to see what it is. But I did a very short evaluation just now to help a fellow HN'er ;-)

Ok, so why I won't probably switch to your service? ;-)

Currently, I use two bookmarking sites:

- Instapaper - this is for the stuff I want to read later, but not necessarily "bookmark" it, and

- Google bookmarks - for the stuff I might want later, so I want to bookmark it

Now, as I see it, the only advantage of historius over Google bookmarks is, that I can historify by one click (like Instapaper). But, this is not that important to me, since when I want to store something, my current habit already is that I always want to add a tag anyway. Because, despite Google bookmarks also having a search (in bookmarked sites), I almost never use it - I can recall an old bookmark by the tag more easily. Moreover, another advantage is, that I do not need another account to create, since I am also an Gmail user.

The third thing is, that I probably would not pay for bookmarking service monthly/yearly, when there is so much free offerings. Maybe you could convince me to one-time fee (like pinboard.in does), but probably not regularly.

So, to sum it up, your product combines good things from various other bookmarking services, but that alone doesn't make it better than others. You just need to find people, who like the workflow you are offering them with your service.

So to sum it up, my only advice I can give is - try to make your service available without need to register, so more people will try it.

Thank you for your feedback! It's true that it's similar to those two services, but, in my opinion, it's different enough to have its own space.

As for registration, don't you need to specify a username when you use instapaper? The problem with using historious without an account is that some features won't work, plus you won't be able to access your account from a different machine/browser. Many users have requested it, though, so I'll try and make it happen!

Thanks again!

Tadam, you've just promoted it! I googled and took a quick look at it, but I'm curious how different is it from a bunch of other already entrenched bookmarking sites?

That's my biggest problem (getting people to understand the awesomeness). I've used other sites, but this is the only truly zero-cost bookmarking service (I'm referring to mental cost). When the mental cost for bookmarking is removed, you find that you bookmark anything that looks remotely interesting and then you can find it very very easily.

Other services have the burden that I either have to fill out too much stuff when bookmarking (tags, categories etc), and/or that I have to categorise my bookmarks. This adds the pages you bookmark to the index right away, so bookmarking is single-click and then you have your personal search engine.

Try it, it's really great. My problem, however, is that I can't find a good way to tell people about it without spamming it, and I was wondering how people approached this problem for Instapaper, which is a not entirely different service...

I hate to say it, but while historious might be pretty awesome, you have a lot of factors working against you.

First, there are things that already do this, and they work well enough. My browser address bar (FF3) finds 95% of stuff that I'm looking for. The other 5% I can open up my history and search. And, if that fails, I can retrace my steps somehow (re-searching Google, etc). I don't find it to be a big deal.

Second, Historious has a pretty large barrier-to-entry, and the pain-point may not be strong enough to overcome that. By barrier to entry, I'm referring to the effect of users finding it very difficult to switch the way they do things. I'm sure this is well documented, and there's a name for it, but if a user has their own way of doing things it will take additional value over just the new process being better, because there is a cost to the actual switching itself. By routinizing a process, it actually feels easier (even though it may be much more difficult than other methods). Since finding things you've previously browsed probably happens a lot, people probably have their own way of dealing with this. I'll just search again, or look through my browser history.

Third, it makes me think. I don't want to constantly evaluate whether or not I should historify a site; which is necessary since it'd be ridiculous to historify every site I come across.

It's hard to gain a fresh perspective on something you've worked so much on. Believe me, I know. I've been working on an the most incredible bookmarklet (guaranteed). I use it all the time, and I love it. But I've been routinized, and that's one of hugest problems. Even though it solves some pretty annoying problems and is awesome, I've found that people who try it out will not connect the fact that it solves problem XYZ, and they have problem XYZ, so they should use it. If they already have a solution to XYZ, that comes up to the top of their mind's list of how to solve the problem.

Hmm, I see what you mean, thanks. I disagree about the fact that you're evaluating whether to historify a site or not, as it tends to become a sort of "hook" when you realise that a site is interesting. For me, it's "hey, what I'm reading is pretty good!" and then an (almost involuntary) click.

I agree that it's hard to get people to switch, even though your solution might be better. However, delicious (and various other services) did it, so I'm hopeful. My problem right now isn't low conversion rates (although that is a problem), it's that I can't even get visitors, to begin with. I just want to solve the problems in order :P

This is because you've used this thing thousands of times.

Prospective users, however, will weight the cost of learning/remembering a new thing, and changing the way they browse, versus the benefit of "now it's slightly easier to recall things that I've browsed before."

Imagine you saw some crazy weird looking mouse at the store. If you bought it, it'd feel weird at first, but it's pretty much guaranteed to be an awesomer mouse. However, your current mouse works fine. Would you buy this new mouse?

Probably not. It's easier to not switch, even if it would be beneficial to do so.

In terms of improving your conversation rate: If you are requiring people to create an account to try historious, you should immediately get rid of that. Let them try it with as low barrier to entry as possible, and hopefully get them hooked.

You're quite right, I've thought of including a "tour" account that will wipe itself every hour or so, just to let people use the website. That should prove very helpful, I think.

Regarding your switching point, I'd definitely switch (and, so would anyone who uses vi/emacs (maybe I should market to them)), but I realise I'm not my target market, and that your point applies to that very much indeed. This just means that I have to make every aspect of historious easy to get into, though (fully-functional demo, easy account creation, extensions for all browsers), as I'll never quit :P

On an unrelated note, I just took a look at moreofit, and I'm very surprised by how accurate it is, so props for that!

Hey, thanks.

I don't see any reason to require a user to create an account to start using Historious. Just create a unique hash (user id) in the bookmarklet, and have that hash be sent along with any "historify" requests.

Perhaps once 30 days are nearing, or they are filling up their free account, you could remind them that they should upgrade to pro, or at at least create an account.

Hope that helps.

I heard of Instapaper from Daring Fireball.

I guess making something that hits the sweet spot for a famous blogger is one way to promote. May not be the most efficient though.

I think Instapaper launched on Daringfireball.

There's more than that, though, you need something to sustain you, you can't get by on the initial launch... There was a bit of coverage for historious which was great, but now there's a lull and I don't know what to do to tell people about the service effectively...

I don't think you can use Instapaper as a model, unless you can be Marco.

His Internet fame originally came about because of his status as the (late) lead developer on Tumblr. Marco frequently writes insightful posts on Apple products that are linked by John Gruber of Daringfireball, who reads his blog attentively. This means his blog posts show up on HN and echo across the entire Apple-focused blogosphere. Apple bloggers are a great audience to have, because they are used to promoting paid products. So Marco has a huge blog readership, and his frequent mentions of his experience with Instapaper in his writing create a huge awareness of the product.

Hmm, I see, thanks...

I've been using and loving instapaper for a few months now. It's really helped me not get distracted spending 20 minutes reading an article when I find something interesting.

Also: the ability to grab an up to date mobi file remotely from my kindle is fantastic. For anyone with an ereader, instapaper is the easiest way I've found to get articles on the web well formatted for reading.

Really looking forward to seeing where this goes!

I should probably submit this to him (and I shall now), but my chief complaint with Instapaper is that on split-page articles it doesn't automatically combine them into one. Some sites (namely WashPo comes to mind off the top of my head) won't let you single page articles, so it makes it a pain to use Instapaper on those.

Hopefully with more time on his hands he'll be able to add more features like this.

EDIT: Looks like he already has this requested since it's listed on the FAQ page, so I look forward to seeing this functionality soon!

Heck, I'd be pretty happy with a little button/dropdown in the popup that let me say which article the page is a part of.

How does this stack up against Read It Later? Anybody tried both of them? They sound identical

I use both and Instapaper does much nicer job of reformatting HTML into something readable. Most of the time it is a blessing, but sometimes it may be the curse (e.g. you have colored table with critical information).

I never used Read It Later, but instapaper can also save kindle and epub files. Even if I have a pro instapaper iphone app, I mainly use it on the kindle these days.

Because it is much more than that ... combines Read It Later, with Readability (Firefox add-on), and ability to download ePub to my N-900 (so it works virtually everywhere, not only on iP*). Also, there is no cost of using it ... if it goes away (or requires payment), I don't loose anything than one day worth of reading.

A bit of a sensationalist headline: I wouldn't consider this a startup, as no actual changes have been made yet, besides availability of time.

Though I am extremely excited to see what Marco has to offer the world now that he can devote more than 10 hours a week.

The product has been out for nearly 3 years[1] and he's been making money for at least half of that.

I'm curious why you don't consider that a startup. What's your criterion?

[1] http://techcrunch.com/2008/01/30/simple-bookmarking-now-avai...

I meant, the title says from a hobby to a startup but I believe it's always been both (it didn't just become a startup, it always has been in a sense). Sorry, maybe my wording was off.

I kinda had a hunch he would be doing this. As it stands right now, Instapaper has a greater chance of making more money than Tumblr, simply because they are selling iOS apps already and the datamining potential is greater (with Tumblr, how do you analyze different blog posts and so on?), such as finding out which blogs are most popular.

They alredy extract the most popular posts http://www.tumblr.com/popular/top

I'm sure they have no problems to know which blog is the most popular (page views, number of "reblogs"...)

Sometimes I wonder what my iPad can do that I can't do better on my laptop. The answer, always, is reading articles Instapaper.

That is if I can manage to wrestle it away from my girlfriend playing Plants vs Zombies!

Is the only revenue stream for Instapaper the app you can buy?

Ads on the website too I guess.

go marco!

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