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The next ten years of Instapaper (instapaper.com)
153 points by chmars 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

Since they don't seem to bother actually sharing their ten year plan, let me share what I want their ten year plan to be:

- We're planning no new user visible features. Instapaper will continue to work just the way you've grown to like it, and we're not planning to change stuff around.

- We're working on making text extraction even more reliable. Besides blog posts and news articles, we hope to improve text extraction from PDFs, slide decks or even twitter threads. Whatever textual content you find on the web, with Instapaper you can save it for distraction free reading, now or later.

- Our apps will see ongoing development to improve compatibility (eg. support new devices/OS updates as they come out), but no major new features. Quality assurance will be our top priority.

- and last but not least, our goal is to establish a small, but profitable company to keep the project alive! Besides the technical aspects, our new business plan will make sure that we're thinking ahead and that we're never caught off guard by something like the GDPR again.

- Will work with ereader manufacturers to allow them to use Instapaper (like Pocket works on Kobo).

It feels weird to me that they’re putting those monetisation hooks back in without talking at all about the future of the product. I’ve used Instapaper for many years now, and I’m more than happy to pay for a service that I get so much value out of, but that said, Instapaper’s largely stagnated in recent years, with very little in the way of major updates or improvements. I’d really love to see even a rough roadmap that could give me some idea of where they want to be say, a year from now, but right now I don’t have a ton of confidence.

Why do you want major updates and improvements? Are you a customer of Instapaper's, or an investor hoping your dollars today pay off in a much better product later? A thing I like about the service I use is that it doesn't add major new things regularly; it just does the thing I ask it to do and gets out of the way.

I'm in the same category. They said the plan is to "ensure Instapaper can continue for the foreseeable future", which is all the feature I need.

I could believe they will think of other things I want besides continuing to work well. But I don't want them to feel like they have to be on a feature treadmill.

Unfortunately, though this might be the view of some (or many) users, the organisation which provides the product - if profit driven - can not maintain the 'development' level of staffing just for maintenance and likewise the valuation also changes if they are only in maintenance mode.

So, it is not realistic to expect that they'll not do much. Ultimately, this is the bane of a consumption drive society.

Why do products have to justify a price via updates and new whiz-bang features? Instapaper works great, and I'm happy to pay to keep the lights on. I'd much prefer that, than for it to be another startup constantly pivoting to find out where the money is, and making lots of changes as short-term experiments.

In line with tptacek's comment, I don't think they need to add any major updates. I'd like to see them improve their site parsing engine, as it does some funky things on occasion, and I'd like to see them update the provided fonts, which mostly haven't changed from Marco Arment's last set and which I personally find a little quirky. (We don't need two extremely similar slab serifs, Elena and Tisa; why not replace one with something that's more distinct but still very readable, like Freight Text or even the semi-classic Charter?)

Yeah, I don't see anything about "the next ten years" in there (other than that it will involve people paying money).

Sometimes the most important part of “the next ten years” is continuing to exist

I switched to emailthis after the EU fiasco. https://www.emailthis.me/

You get a parsed html email with the article without the adds. It literally supports every app there is for saving (you just share via email). You can read it from any email client and easily share it with your friends. I also use fastmail which has a great full text search so finding old articles is a breeze. You can also do many cool stuff with IFTTT because again, it's just email.

What about images?

Images are included, not video though.

Good to see the 6 months Premium for EU users, but I am still unconvinced; I switched to Pocket after the GDPR fiasco, is there any reason to switch back?

I’m in a same boat. I already paid for Pocket premium. There is no compelling reason to go back. I did prefer Instapaper app UX though. Probably coz of years of use, but I’ve made my peace with Pocket app.

GDPR blackout was a big misstep.

It’s clear that Pinterest management was behind the GDPR fiasco, and now that Instapaper is independent again, they’re trying to make it right.

To me it’s a better product than pocket, reason enough for me to switch back.

The comment section of the announcement has plenty of Pocket-switchers. I think Instapaper is much more focused than Pocket, which seems to be more geared towards recommendations now.

Why do you think it's a better product? (Not a user of any of them)

How's the privacy record of Pocket?

At first sight, https://getpocket.com/privacy doesn't look GDPR-compliant. It doesn't mention rights of the data subject, there's no address of a data protection representative in the EU and so on … In addition, Read It Later Inc. is apparently not Privacy Shield-certified – the don't mention it and I cannot find their entry at https://www.privacyshield.gov/participant_search.

To be fair, https://www.instapaper.com/privacy includes some GDPR-related information, however, they don't have a data privacy representative in the EU or a Privacy Shield certification either.

Depends on if you are happier with Pocket than Instapaper. I think the Pocket UI is rather awful compared to Instapaper, but if it works at least as well or better for you, then of course no reason to switch back.

After all these comments stating that they changed to Pocket I find it important to point out we also have an self-hosted and open source alternative to these 2:

Wallabag (https://wallabag.org/en)

Unfortunately it's very hard to set Wallabag up without having access to VirtualHosts.

Slim the server down so it fits on a lambda and include a serverless definition to set it up in one line:


Read-it-later software seems surprisingly hard to monetize given how few are in the space. Pocket, Instapaper and Pinboard seem to be the only valid players.

The ability to facilitate "archiving a webpage" seems to be simple, but read-it-later software needs to be more than that to the modern internet user it seems.

It needs to; + Save video and images + Most people require a TTS service of sorts + Even more people want text-extraction (and boy-oh-boy this is hard) + Cross-platform apps & syncing

Where are the big costs here? Is it;

1. Scale (Syncing all that multimedia must be expensive) 2. Talent (doubt it's this all the teams seem to be extremely small teams) 3. AI & Scraping development (Most services are poor in their offerings here, not sure its this)

I've been thinking about the space a LOT and started to try and develop some pieces of software that eventually I hope people will be able to stitch together into something great.

When i've observed problems like this before it seems that eventually a large open source project comes along and kills the markets chance of generating any money, and read-it-later services seem to fit in that fuzzily-defined-in-my-head-only market segment.

I subscribed. I don't need the premium features, but I also use Instapaper just about every day and want the company to survive.

Same here. I don't even dare that by paying for a premium subscription, I lost my 6-month trial period …

Did I miss something or was there no mention of the plans for the next ten years?

You are correct.

So the plan seems that they are hoping up to $350 in revenue per Premium user over that ten year span will cover it. Which seems …low.

35$ per user per year is pretty decent for a low touch app like Instapaper. At that rate, they need just a few thousand subscribers per developer. I don't know how big their team is, and where they work / what kind of salary they pay themselves, and I have no clue how many users they have, but I'm pretty sure there are ways to make the math work out.

Straight from their privacy policy [0]:

-- Please note: To ensure easy account creation, minimal customer errors, and reduced support inquiries, Instapaper accounts initially do not have passwords. If left without a password, anyone can access your account if they know or guess your username. --

This sounds like a serious security issue if you ask me.

[0] = https://www.instapaper.com/privacy

Hey there – we started requiring passwords many years ago, but the service originally launched without requiring a password or email address. You can read more about it here: http://blog.instapaper.com/post/2318776738

I'm not sure how requiring a minimum password length of 1 character solves anything. Just tried it out and apparently 'a' is an acceptable password.

The article hammers on accessiblity over security and I think you've taken this too far. A minimum password length of 8 is not a 'strange requirement'.

Password requirements don't really protect the business, they protect the user, and if the user isn't interested in protecting their data, why should the company force them to care?

Yeah, I just don't see the risk here. I don't keep my old magazines in a safe. They go under the coffee table, and then they go outside to the recycling bin.

In some countries what you read may be sensitive info for many people.

In which case, I'm thinking people in those countries know enough to set a password.

I think this was originally done when Marco Arment created Instapaper. He’s been trying to come up with a way to avoid passwords for years.

With Overcast - his podcast player, he also doesn’t require a username or password anymore if you’re just using the iOS apps. You can add a username and password to your account if you need to use the web client. But of course this is more secure. It’s piggybacking off the fact that you are logged into your Apple account (no, the Apple ID that is being used is not your actual email address, it’s a token)


Are there any decent alternatives to Instapaper? Pocket is the obvious one, but doesn't have highlights (which I rely on).

Wallabag: https://www.wallabag.it/en (Link to the hosted version, change .it to .org if you prefer to self-host.)

It contains highlighting, send-to-Kindle, decent mobile apps, and all the other features you would usually rely on!

Feature-wise, no alternative compares to it.

The only problem: UI. It's not the UX (things are where you expect them to be), but UI just looks... wrong. The same thing applies to their website(s) as well.

I had a look into it while Instapaper was down and couldn't find any send-to-Kindle feature - do you know where that's mentioned at all?


Needs a jailbroken Kindle...

Ah yeah that’s not happening. Instapaper it is :)

Looks like I'm wrong - Pocket does have (freemium) highlights: https://getpocket.com/blog/2018/04/highlights-are-now-availa...

Up to three per article though…

I run a minimal alternative to Instapaper called EmailThis [1].

It lets you save complete articles and webpages to your email inbox. If it fails to extract useful text, EmailThis will save the page to a PDF and send it as an attachment.

There's no need to install additional apps on your phone or login to any 3rd party service.

[1] https://www.emailthis.me

Diigo? It's more of a delicious alternative, but it has highlighting. https://www.diigo.com/about

Well this is kind of annoying. They gave out premium to everyone when Pinterest bought them, but now that they are a private company again they took away features from me that I was used to using as a free user. I get why, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Reminds me of the PushBullet monetization stuff[0].

[0] https://blog.pushbullet.com/2015/11/17/introducing-pushbulle...

As a UK user it's just nice to finally have it back. Good to know things are still going swimmingly despite the GDPR setbacks.

I would have loved/expected a short explanation as to why GDPR compliance took so long to achieve.

I really love Instapaper and use it a lot. Especially the send to kindle feature. Luckily for them I did not stumble upon an easy 1:1 replacement.

But not even explaining the challenges seems quite a bit off and suspect. It is not like I keep my health records there (at least to my knowledge :) )

Before going independent, Instapaper was owned by Pinterest. To me it always looked like Instapaper was left as founders' sideproject so it makes sense that Pinterest potentially didn't want to invest much into it (build GDPR), or take risks (face GDPR fines). Now that it has been sold/given back to the team, I doubt we'll ever get to hear the full story.

I have major respect for Brian & co for continuing on the project and trying to make it a long term indie play.

Thanks Jorde – appreciate it!

> I really love Instapaper and use it a lot. Especially the send to kindle feature. Luckily for them I did not stumble upon an easy 1:1 replacement.

I finally gave up a few weeks back and migrated to pocket, turns out it has an importer for instapaper's CSV export, so it took about 5mn and it worked well enough for my purposes (saving articles from my twitter feed and new chapters of serials from feedly for later reading), so meh.

I looked at Pocket as well, but the "send to Kindle" feature seemed to be missing?

Yeah, it's not implemented. There's P2K[0] and crofflr[1] that act as middleware between Pocket and Kindle.

[0] $3 per month subscription https://p2k.co/

[1] $5 one time payment https://www.crofflr.com/#/home

Ahh thanks a lot! Pocket and Crofflr could be a solution. Does anyone have experiences with that combination for Kindle?

I've been using it for a while. It's been the most convenient solution, and worth the price. Before that I used a 3rd party Send-To-Kindle bookmarklet, and Instapaper via Calibre in the past.


+ QR-codes at the end of articles to go back to them

+ Clean configuration

+ Scheduled delivery

+ Reliable


- Often misses images and, sometimes, even text from the original page. To be fair, I have found to be the problem of every web->ebook converter out there.

- It says it supports Kindle Back Issues, but they don't seem to work for Crofflr ebooks even on a top-of-the-line (Oasis) Kindle.

Matter of taste:

~ I'd prefer for every article to be in a separate book so I can read out-of-order, and delete and bookmark them separately. But the navigation interface within the single book (issue) is very nice.

Ah that's possible, I don't have a kindle so that's not a thing I would be using.

Maybe they wanted to be absolutely sure that they were complying with the law fully and make sure they had set up code and policies to easily enable data deletion and correction. The law is not just looking in your database to see if you have any "bad" fields.

You can look at the diff of their privacy policy on GitHub and see that they added/changed some of the 3rd party libraries that were used, possibly they felt the old ones were not compliant enough for them (they removed ChartBeat and replaced Localytics with Crashlytics).


Ok, so in that case, the answer would be "we didn't start until way too late, so we had to shut it down for a bit." I also imagine people are curious about why it took the amount of time that it did. How much info are they storing?

Yeah, they refused to say anything during the outage, and now they're still not providing the slightest bit of detail. There's really no excuse for that. With that total lack of transparency, I certainly wouldn't trust Instapaper in the future.

Possibly one of the worst cases of irrational GDPR fear. The fines would have been significantly lower than the (irreversible?) loss of European market share.

The max fines are based on the top-level parent company's global revenue. Instapaper was owned by Pinterest until being spun off very recently.

Most likely, Pinterest's lawyers and executives were not OK with risking the fines, and also did not want to devote enough development resources to GDPR compliance for such a small subsidiary like Instapaper. Also explains why they'd spin it out -- GDPR changed the calculus.

This is speculation, but I've seen this GDPR fear play out elsewhere. Large parent companies are very worried about those worst-case fines and want to ensure there's no risk whatsoever.

The "Instapaper must be up to something sketchy if GDPR compliance took so long" narrative here seems pretty unfair. If their former owners are to blame for the long EU outage, it's understandable that Instapaper isn't going to publicly call them out -- they may even have agreements preventing this. And the whole spin-out probably took some time and logistical effort, so they couldn't reasonably focus on GDPR immediately after that either.

(Edit: not trying to knock Pinterest either; their actions would be completely understandable given the max potential fines.)

It's not just the fines. Even assume you negotiate the regulator (or regulators!) down to something reasonable, your international law firm with relationships with the various regulators is going to price out at well over $500 US/hour. For a simple complaint to the regulator, you're probably staring at $15k or more of legal.

In Pinterest's case where an Instapaper complaint could have triggered a general review of their business practices, I'd roughly estimate the costs of talking to the regulator at a half million dollars. Start with their counsel ordering sales & marketing leadership to grab engineers to create and review a consent log for every outbound sales and marketing contact in their system.

It is impossible for fines ($ or €) to be lower than market share (% or number of users).

Also, what you probably meant is still not possible: As Instapaper was free under Pinterest, market share was connected to $0 of revenue. So any fine would be greater than the revenue of the app's European customers.

That's nitpicking on language, in context I am clearly referring to the monetary value of the respective market share. That can be calculated even for a zero revenue company, unless the plan all along was to operate Instapaper as a non-profit and forever offer the service free.

How about making it anything less than painful to use on an iPad. Like, maybe some of your developers can actually try to use it on an iPad? If this has been fixed, I retract. I've moved on long ago.

Do they expect to have any EU user after being out 2 months? I've been chatting with the support and I heard only the classic "soon".

Funnily enough while the web service was unavailable to EU users (myself included) their Android app worked just fine for me.

Are you sure? While I had access to old articles on my iOS app, I wasn't able to add new ones, something I hadn't noticed until weeks later.

The app and website have been working for me. Geoblocking is obviously not that easy …

so full text search is payed again. i love that feature, but it's not worth 30 bucks a year to me.

For someone who only wants a free service, which is better - Pocket or Instapaper?

That depends on your use case.

Personally, I like the UX of Instapaper better - it's cleaner, more minimalist, and easier to read.

Pocket is owned by Mozilla. Instapaper is (was?) owned by Pinterest.

(I think the choice is obvious :D)

Ideally though, you can host your own FOSS solution on a raspberry pi or something. (Wallabag)

Instapaper is owned by the two people who signed this post. For 21 days now.

Meanwhile, Instapaper just killed their Apple Watch app: http://www.idownloadblog.com/2018/08/03/instapaper-apple-wat...

I can't imagine any significant number of people were using it to justify keeping it, but perhaps I'm wrong.

When Instapaper removes Apple Watch support it deletes the app from the watch of everyone who installed the iPhone app update.

It didn’t work very well and just tended to get in the way when using playlists. The only third party watch app I use happily is OmniFocus, and it’s so nice in some ways that I’ve learned to live with it’s also-very-obvious bugs.

I have a cellular Apple Watch and need third party apps to be available if I'm going to leave my phone at home even occasionally. Unfortunately major developers are dropping Apple Watch support in droves: https://mjtsai.com/blog/2018/04/04/instagram-removes-watch-a...

Users too – and developers are following suit, except for some special use cases …

(Unfortunately, useful notifications for iPhone apps depend on an Apple Watch app.)

Can someone compare Instapaper to Pocket for me? I'm just wondering how they're different.

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