Stop Reading Junk and Start Using Instapaper

When it comes to eating healthily, we've all heard the saying: You are what you eat. It turns out, the same is true for reading: You are what you read.

In the same way that you want to nourish your body with only high-quality, nutritious foods, you also want to feed your mind with only high-quality, thoughtful content.

To continue this analogy, if books are meals, then articles are snacks. There are such things as healthy snacks, but as we all know, they're typically junk food by design — mass-produced, dopamine-inducing, heavily-marketed quick fixes.

Unfortunately, the same can now be said for articles on the internet, with most web content falling into one of the following buckets:

  • Complete nonsense disguised by a clickbaity headline and an irresistible cover photo (Man Tries to Hug a Wild Lion, You Won't Believe What Happens Next!);

  • Medium posts about self-actualization consumed exclusively by Medium writers who post about self-actualization (Stop Trying to Find Yourself; Create Yourself Instead); or,[1]

  • Thinly veiled "content marketing" that touches on maybe one useful insight before arriving at the self-interested call-to-action. (🌚)

Reading a clickbaity article here or there probably won't corrupt your mind, just like a handful of M&Ms now and again probably won't cause diabetes. But cumulatively, over time, consistent snacking leads to undesired effects.

So how can you stop reading junk articles and start reading higher quality content?

One killer technique is to use a "read it later" app such as Instapaper, Pocket, Refind, et al. These apps enable you to send articles to a central depository where you can choose to deliberately read them later rather than impulsively reading them on the spot.

The simple practice of deferring the decision to read satisfies the immediate desire to snack. More importantly, and more subtly, read it later apps naturally filter out low-quality articles. This is because disposable clickbait quickly loses its appeal while high-quality content tends to maintain its luster. In other words, time is a potent filter.

But which of the many "read it later" apps should you use? We heartily recommend Instapaper.

Instapaper

Originally released more than a decade ago by the prolific developer, Marco Arment, Instapaper requires no introduction among our audience.[2] We must, however, explain why we so strongly endorse Instapaper over the many worthy competitors out there.

Here are our reasons:

First, under the aegis of Pinterest, Instapaper is offered completely, 100% free, including its wonderful mobile app. For many of us, Google Reader is a cautionary tale of how free reading apps can disappear at any time. But for now, the getting is good.

Sidebar: Ironically, shortly after writing this article, it was announced that Instapaper is going independent. It was then announced that, after years of being offered for free under the aegis of Pinterest, Instapaper was reinstating Instapaper Premium for $2.99/month or $29.99/year. For the reasons below, Instapaper is still our read it later app of choice.

Second, Instapaper features a remarkably clean, uncluttered reading experience on both desktop and mobile complete with — drumroll please — highlighting! Not just that: Instapaper treats highlighting and note-taking as first-class features. If another "read it later" app happens to offer highlighting (most don't), the feature is almost always an afterthought. Not so with Instapaper.

Finally, Instapaper offers an open API enabling you to easily access and put your reading data to use, either on your own or through a third-party app such as Readwise. This allows for a variety of imaginative applications. For example:

  • Readwise user Stanley Stevens uses the Instapaper API to promote self-awareness of how much and what kind of content he's consuming, including a stunning sunburst representation depicting the various topics he's been reading about (what he calls his "Circle of Competence").[3]

  • And fellow Readwise user Simon Eskildsen uses the Instapaper API to build upon the principles of spaced repetition to manage his reading queue and "bump" past articles to the top of his list so that he periodically re-reads important articles of his choosing.[4]

Instapaper & Readwise

As you can probably guess, we here at Readwise use the Instapaper API to conveniently resurface your highlights from articles just like we do with your highlights from ebooks. Once you've linked your Instapaper account with Readwise, the notes and highlights you take in Instapaper will be automatically synced with and resurfaced by Readwise with zero effort on your part.[5]

Better Reading

The uncluttered reading experience, the noting & highlighting, the open API — these are all wonderful features of Instapaper. But now you appreciate that there's a much subtler and even more profound benefit to reading with Instapaper: you'll read higher quality articles. And by pairing Readwise with Instapaper, you'll get more value out of those articles.

If you haven't already, sign up for Readwise today and start transforming reading into meaningful action and lasting insight.


  1. Credit: Venkatesh Rao ↩ī¸Ž

  2. The Promethean Marco Arment also gave us Tumblr and Overcast. ↩ī¸Ž

  3. In case you were wondering, Stanley labels his articles using the Google Natural Language API. ↩ī¸Ž

  4. If we get enough interest, we might add a variation of Simon's resurfacing technique to Readwise in which unread, buried Instapaper articles are periodically resurfaced to the top of the queue at increasing intervals of time. ↩ī¸Ž

  5. Many users have been asking about Pocket lately. At this time, Pocket does not support highlights through it API. If you want to nudge the folks over there to integrate with Readwise sooner, you should use their Request a Feature for Pocket form. ↩ī¸Ž

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