Instapaper – a Powerful Tool in your News-Reading Arsenal

In previous articles on this blog, I’ve discussed how using an RSS reader, or a series of RSS readers on multiple platforms that sync to a common service, can help you manage news and blogs efficiently. There’s another wonderful tool that helps me keep up with what’s going on in the world, and since the iOS app is free at present, it’s time to show it a bit of love here on the blog.

Instapaper helps you deal with a common scenario. You’re reading your social networks, and someone has posted a link to an article that sounds interesting. But right now, you’re focussed on catching up with what your friends are up to. If you could file that article somewhere so you could take a look later, when you’re in the mood for concentrating on an in-depth story, that would be great.

You’re surfing the web, and come across an interesting news piece. You’d like to be able to file it away and read it on the commute to the office. You’re less inclined to take a look at it now, partly because you know the article is going to be cluttered with ads, options to share said article on a gazillion social networks, and other stuff that just detracts from your enjoyment of the article.

Enter Instapaper. Instapaper is one of a number of “read later” services, but when I researched this market some years back, its iOS app was by far the most accessible. It’s founder, who has since sold the service, was always willing to make improvements that made the app increasingly accessible. The concept is quite simple. Find a link to an article you want to read later, and send it to Instapaper. You do this either by emailing the text of the article, by choosing a special bookmark once you have the article open, or by using over 140 iOS apps with Instapaper integration included.

Many Twitter clients, including Twitter, Twitterific, and Tweetlist include Instapaper support, as do feed readers like Feeddler.

Once you have the articles sent to Instapaper, you can use its website or its app to read them. If you need to, use the app to download the articles, so an Internet connection isn’t required when you want to read them. This is great if you find yourself on a long flight without an Internet connection. Instapaper can even be set up to be location-aware, so when you arrive at the airport, it can grab all your articles from Instapaper without you having to remember to initiate the process.

There’s another bonus to sending your news articles to Instapaper, and that is its mobiliser technology. Essentially, this strips web pages of clutter, making for a screen-reader-friendly version of the page. Some apps, such as Tweetlist and Feeddler, use the Instapaper mobiliser to render articles within their apps, and if you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll know what a joy it is to read news with the mobiliser enabled.

There’s a social element to Instapaper as well. You can like articles, and a like can trigger an automatic share of the article you’re reading to social networks. It’s also possible, if your friends have the service configured to be social, to look at the articles your friends are reading. That can expose you to material you otherwise may not have read.

Usually, you have to purchase the Instapaper app, and that’s an important revenue stream for the company. They have also in the past charged a subscription fee of $1 per month for more advanced services. I couldn’t find any reference to this on their site, and Instapaper has recently changed ownership, so I’m unclear as to whether this subscription option still exists. If it does, one reason why you may like to pay it, is that in the past it’s been necessary in order to integrate Instapaper with Voice Dream Reader. The combination of sending your articles to Instapaper, then reading with Voice Dream is an absolute joy. You can build your own custom newspaper, switch off your screen and have the high quality text-to-speech in Voice Dream read you one article after another.

Those of you who know your iPhone well may be asking what the point is in Instapaper when Safari has its reading list feature. This is a good question, and while I like the reading list, for me, it hasn’t replaced Instapaper entirely for a number of reasons. First, the reading list isn’t cross-platform. If you do a lot of your web surfing in Windows as I do, there’s no way to get an article onto your iPhone’s reading list.

Second, third-party support for the reading list on iPhone is minimal. Only the other day, an update to the official Twitter app added reading list support, and I think it is the first app I personally use that has done so.

Third, there’s no Voice Dream Reader support for getting your content from the reading list into the app.

If you like being able to access articles in a screen-reader-friendly way, to have access to them even when you’re not connected to the net, and want a place where you can file those interesting articles for reading at a place and time that suits you, Instapaper is worth a look. And since the app’s free right now, you’ve nothing to lose by giving it a try.

They’ve recently launched an Android version, but I have no knowledge of whether that, too, is accessible.

Do you use Instapaper? Has it become a regular part of your news consumption? Share your experiences with other readers in the comments.