Read later

Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff on the Internet? Often find yourself with 10+ tabs open on your browser? These days many of us have too much to read, which is a challenge for those who like to read long-form content (and those who publish it too).

Thankfully, there is a solution: read later services.

The idea is simple: at the click of a button you can save the whole text (and often the pictures too) from a webpage to read at another time at your leisure. These services sync with apps on your smartphone or tablet, or even your Kindle or other e-reader, so you always have something you want to read at your fingertips - perfect for those idle moments waiting in a queue or riding the bus or train. Even subway reading is possible, since the apps keep the latest articles on your device for offline use. Best of all: most of these services are free.

When I first discovered these a few years ago, they literally changed my life. I always have my phone on me, so I always have something interesting that I want to read with me at all times. The number of articles I was able to consume – particularly long-form – went up substantially (though you could argue that I’ve swapped multiple open tabs for lots of saved articles I may never read….). I also like the clean, ad-free reading experience these services offer – a change from the busy clutter of many webpages.

Here follows a quick guide to the services available (Disclaimer: Mosaic does not endorse any product or service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.) 

Instapaper

The first read later service I used and one of the most established. Originally created by Marco Arment, one of the founders of Tumblr, Instapaper does what it says on the tin: “Save anything, read anywhere” with a simple and clean interface and design.

You can choose to read either through scrolling or swipe-pagination, what font and what size it displays in, and even whether you read with a black or white background (black being better for device batteries). There’s even a ‘night version’ mode that will adjust the brightness at sunset to go easy on your eyes.

Elsewhere, you can archive items you’ve read (searchable), ‘favourite’ articles, and also link that to your social media services to tweet or Facebook your friends and followers. It offers send-to-Kindle integration and has a new ‘highlights’ feature, allowing you to save quotes and other bits from articles. There’s also a feature that will surface feature articles from your saves, as well integrating with friends who also use Instapaper so you can see what they’re reading too. Particularly nice is the Twitter integration – you can save an article right from the Twitter app to Instapaper and it will also have that person’s tweet in the save (useful if you forget why you saved it in the first place!).

For a fee you can also upgrade to a ‘Pro’ version with a full-text search function for your archive and no ads among other things.

Pocket

Originally grown out of a simple browser extension (literally called ‘Read it later’), this is possibly the leader in read later services at the moment and my current favourite.

Much like Instapaper, with all the same functions but in some ways slicker. In its web and app versions it looks much more colourful and magazine-like than Instapaper’s simple black-and-white design. In my experience, I’ve also found it better at saving the images alongside articles too.

Usage-wise, it’s a joy, with a great search function right out of the box. Pocket has the same ‘features’ highlighting function as Instapaper, but puts that at the top of the app, sorted into automatically tagged categories like ‘Long Reads’, ‘Quick reads’ and ‘Best of’ – useful for surfacing items that you’d saved a while ago but never got around to reading. You can also create your own tags. Like Instapaper, it recognises video and image-led articles and tags them in an easy-to-find separate category. Like Instapaper, should you choose to hook up your Pocket account to your friends’ you can see what people have chosen to share to you, as well as what they’re reading. And you can send articles directly from the Twitter app too.

A pro version is available, which gives you a more powerful search function (search by topics or author for instance) as well as a permanent library – it’ll keep the full save of your archive so you can access anytime, even if that article later gets deleted from the web (most services lose that when you archive it from your list).

Readability

A service started with the aim of cleaning up the web-reading experience, read later seems to have developed as a bonus benefit. As such, it grew largely out of its browser extension for Firefox – click the button and it’ll display the text of your webpage without the ad and side-box junk and a more readable font.

You don’t need to install an app to use it, since the Readability website is fully mobile-responsive. But app-wise the standard apps for Apple and Android devices are available, just like Instapaper and Pocket and with much the same functionality. You can send articles to your Readability account via email and there’s integration with popular browsing app Flipboard if that’s your thing. It also has a partnership to highlight the best long-reads from the curators of Longform.org as well as a nice ‘Top Reads’ newspaper-like section that highlights the most popular articles people are saving at the time.

Evernote

Considered more as a note-taking/self-organisation tool, if you think of Evernote as a pinboard/scrapbook for ideas and thoughts, it makes sense that one of its major features is the ability to ‘clip’ articles from around the web. This saves the text of the article to your Evernote account, which you can synch to read offline. Not as flash or as optimised for reading as the other services, it still works well and is very useful if you also want to tag and save articles for project research purposes.

Others

Thanks to the free Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets, anyone with a smartphone or tablet can take advantage of Amazon’s ‘Send to Kindle’ service, not just Kindle owners. It’s pretty straightforward – you can install an extension to your browser to automatically send any article (or indeed document) straight to your Kindle account (which if you have it set up, will automatically synch with your Kindle). Not so good for video or image heavy pages of course.

Apple devices also all come with ‘Reading list’ built into the Safari browser. This takes advantage of Apples iCloud service to store your articles in the web. It does sync with your devices, but obviously is only of use if you have an iPhone or iPad.

For more on these services, Mashable has a nice guide to Read-it-later apps.

What’s your experience with read later services? Do let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: Mosaic does not endorse any product or service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.