Are you facing a never ending pile of articles to read? Have you ever remembered this amazing post you recently read but forgotten the title or URL? Or are you just hoping to augment and improve how you read and learn stuff online using technology?
One empowering approach to reading and learning in the internet age are read-it-later apps. My tool of choice is Instapaper, and with a few additional tweaks, as I’ll go into below, it can be even better.
A read-it-later app enables you to save articles from the web and (surprise, surprise) read them later. They generally give you a better reading experience without all of the ads and distractions too. They are largely intended as a way to capture stuff that comes up while working on one thing, avoid distraction, and read it when it is more convenient.
The three most popular approaches today are Pocket, Instapaper and Evernote. Each of these lets you save articles and then read them offline on a mobile device or computer using their app.
At their most basic, each make article reading experience better and less distracted. Each can also be leveraged to build an external, digital memory of the things you read. You can look back in time and know what you read and when. You can create even a year in reading as I did to see trends. Moreover, when your biological memory slips, you can simply search your archive of saved articles to find the reference or quote that stood out.
As I recount in How to Track the Articles You Read and Augment Your Digital Memory, the two tools I previously used were Evernote and Pocket. Both are good options, but over the last year or so, I’ve become a real fan of Instapaper.
On the surface, Instapaper is extremely similar to the slightly more well-known and popular, Pocket. Not only does Instapaper provide a beautiful and clean reading experience, it gives some empowering extra features, especially if you depend on internet research for your work or studies.
The two features that most stand out for me are highlights and tracking:
- Highlights enable me to mark up important passages as I read them. I use a similar feature on Kindle and for PDFs too. While highlights don’t automatically create memories and learning and in fact we shouldn’t forget that highlighting and re-reading are two of the least effective learning techniques (Dunlosky, 2013), they are a good starting point, since instead of re-reading an entire article, you can just extract the key parts you highlighted. What I often do when I’m researching a new topic is during my initial search, I first save various articles into Instapaper. After that, I read those topic-focused articles in the app and highlight accordingly. Then once I’m ready, I export all of the highlights and use them to summarize in my own words. This is part of my knowledge cycle and my general note-taking technique.
- The other thing I love about Instapaper is its tracking capability. Unfortunately, Instapaper doesn’t provide any internal way to track or visualize your reading history just yet. Fortunately, it is easy to set it up your own tracking and visualizations. By either accessing its API with some code or using its integration with IFTTT, you can extract your entire reading history, including article read, articles liked and all of your highlights too.
Ultimately, this combination of a beautiful reading experience, highlights and tracking have made Instapaper my go-to app for reading articles now.
In this post, I want to explain what is Instapaper and how to set it up for tracking and knowledge management. I’ll share how to export your highlights locally, walkthrough a bit of code for data analysis, and show how you can use Google Sheets for cool and simple data visualizations too. At the end, in my conclusion, I share my dream for the next, most futuristic read-it-later apps.
Once we are done, I hope that you too will be ready deploy your own empowering article reading and learning system with Instapaper!