the candler blog

ReadKit 2 and Rediscovering Instapaper

Reading, Technology

Yesterday I bought ReadKit, an app that’s only been around since January but nonetheless made the jump to 2.0 this week. Fundamentally, ReadKit is a Mac client for Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Delicious and Pinboard. Or rather it was.

This update turns ReadKit into an RSS client, including sync capabilities for Fever and NewsBlur. As a Fever user myself, this was the main feature that got me to plunk down $5. Currently I have a Fluid app for Fever, which works well, though I’d rather have a native app for reading RSS. ReadKit seemed like a bargain as a catch-all app.

Unfortunately, right now ReadKit is unusable as a Mac Fever RSS client for me. I’ve got 251 feeds; trying to get one sync to complete took an inordinate amount of time. I don’t know where the bottleneck occurs. It could be my server, Fever’s API or ReadKit itself. This isn’t the first Fever client I’ve had issues getting sync to work with though, so I imagine it’s a combination of all three.

That said, ReadKit is a brilliant Instapaper client. Overnight it has changed the way I use the service. I can’t recommend it highly enough on this front.

I first got Instapaper Free way back in January 2009. I used the service constantly to queue up morning reads on the subway. When the iPad came out (and I bought one) I finally made the upgrade to Instapaper Pro, and it is without question the best $5 (!) I’ve ever spent. I’ve tried the competition, but Marco Arment, Instapaper’s creator, always did an amazing job at heading off the other apps and making a simply great app for reading articles on a digital device.

In the four years since I started using Instapaper, I never thought to clean it up. I would save articles to it, and maybe I would read them, maybe not. Usually not. For the past many months (years?) I’ve become overwhelmed with the unending stream of unread articles in the app. I would open it up on my iPad and want to read everything but not know where to start, so I’d close it and go do something else. When I fly, I ritualistically load it up with long reads to keep me occupied en route, instead of, you know, reading the months’ worth of great articles already there. And so it has gotten bloated.

ReadKit to the rescue.

I basically decided to declare Instapaper bankruptcy and admit that I probably won’t read the thousands of unread articles in my account. Making sure I wasn’t going to do any irreparable damage, I exported my bookmarks (limited to the most recent 2000 articles) out of Instapaper and imported them into Pinboard.

Because why not? Pinboard is the safe deposit box of my Internet wanderings, my cold storage, if you will. I don’t mind loading it up with superfluous (and probably redundant) bookmarks. Instapaper, in contrast, should be the place I go to read interesting things, the sort of beaten path along which I travel. But it had become the cold storage over time. Now, back to how I changed that.

Once I knew my bookmarks were mostly backed up to Pinboard, I used one of ReadKit’s new power features: Smart Folders. Just like the smart folders in Mail, ReadKit allows you to create extremely powerful folders based on granular searches of the content you have loaded into the app. I’ve barely scratched the surface of their potential, but they pack a punch. Smart Folders can search across accounts, so you could have quick access to any article that had, say, “movies” in the headline or body in all of your accounts. They can even trigger notifications, which could be useful if you’re waiting for specific news via RSS.

The Smart Folder that I created to clean up Instapaper was very simple: collect any unread article in Instapaper that hasn’t been added in the last month. Here’s what it looks like:

The Unread folder under ReadKit’s Instapaper header is limited to 500 articles at a time (by Instapaper). So at any given time this smart folder had some 470 articles in it. At first I started filing away articles I know I want to revisit soon into folders (which I also reorganized, but you don’t want to hear about that) and spent some time deleting obviously superfluous articles. I even read a few of them as I went through this process. Anything I didn’t know what to do with got archived, which is as simple as selecting and typing A in ReadKit.

Once that was done for the first set of articles, I’d simply reload and do it again for the next set of 500, going all the way back to 2009. Reload, select all, archive, repeat. I did this until my Unread folder was down to only the articles added in the past month. From there it was just a matter of going through the past month’s worth of articles, filing and archiving those I had read and deleting what didn’t belong. Now I’m down to a svelte 17 articles I actually want to read. And I will.

Yesterday I read more long pieces from the Internet than I have in too long a time. It was nice to open Instapaper and be able to quickly pick a worthy piece to read. As a result I’m also more careful about what I put into Instapaper and why. Things I want to read should go to Instapaper; things I need to save go to Pinboard. It sounds simple but for the longest time I used the services interchangeably. Without ReadKit I may not have been able to find a way to clean up Instapaper and rediscover it.

A few more words on ReadKit itself. Visually it’s a simple, stunning app. I like all of the themes for reading text, and I’m glad that I’m able to pick which typeface my articles appear in. It’s just customizable enough, but not to the point of being overwhelming. I loaded up my Pinboard account, but personally I prefer the Pinboard site to any native tools. However, I may find better uses for it in the near future. One other nice touch in ReadKit is its ability to “save and restore” your reading position. This sort of works with Instapaper’s own progress syncing, though mostly it’s useful for retaining your place while navigating away from an article. It’s an optional feature but a pleasant one.

One request would be to add some form of word count to the app. I was hoping there would be a way to set a word count threshold for Smart Folders so I could sift out the really long reads from the short ones. When I sit down to pick which article I read, article length is the first metric I check, cleverly made visible in Instapaper’s iOS app by a series of dots below the headline. Perhaps in time this will be added, but of course it would be a luxury.

ReadKit 2 is $4.99 on the Mac App Store.1 Go get it. You won’t be sorry.

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