How I Conquered My Reading List Using Pocket

If you’re a student, a researcher, a knowledge worker, or an entrepreneur, you probably swim in ideas all day long. Like it or not, replenishing those ideas through reading is a huge part of your job. After all, it’s hard to make new knowledge without old knowledge; it’s impossible to see new connections unless you have stuff in your head to connect.

The problem is, there’s so much material to ingest. As if managing your e-mail inbox weren’t enough, there’s also a galaxy of news outlets pushing informative stories at you daily, from magazines and newspapers to news sites and blogs, most of them absolutely free.

Obviously, nobody can read it all. To help filter and prioritize the incoming material, it helps to have a short list of trusted information sources and a smart group of Facebook and Twitter friends who can act as curators. But there’s still the challenge of keeping track of all the stuff you know you must read, and putting it somewhere where you can find it later.

I’m going to tell you today about my own secret weapon: Pocket. For about two years now, it’s been an indispensable part of my daily workflow. Almost everything I want to read, except books, gets saved in my Pocket queue first. The app works equally well on all of my devices. It plays nicely with the other important software tools in my life, such as Chrome and Evernote. And recently it got even better, with the addition of premium features that make storing and searching the articles in my Pocket account easier.

Originally created by San Francisco entrepreneur Nate Weiner, Pocket is one of several “read it later” apps that popped up shortly after the advent of the iPhone in 2007—in fact, it used to be called Read It Later. There are other good apps in this category, notably Instapaper and Readability, but to my mind, Pocket is the clear winner.

There’s a twofold purpose to each of these apps. First, they make it easy to squirrel away interesting Web content at the moment you find it, so that you can keep browsing now and come back to it later. Then, when you do come back, they extract the material from the noisy, advertising-ridden jumble of the sites where it originated. I like Pocket best because it’s got great browser-based tools for saving articles, and because the design of the app itself is so clean, elegant, and minimalist, making it the perfect refuge from the messy, open Web.

Pocket on the iPad

Pocket on the iPad

Just like any journalist—and probably just like you—I have a routine for keeping up with the news and finding new story ideas. I spend a certain portion of every day surfing the Web, flipping through news-aggregator apps like Zite, Flipboard, and Reverb, and following links from curated sources such as Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail newsletters.

Pocket comes into the equation in the following way. Say I’m browsing the Web on my Mac. When I come across an article that looks interesting or relevant, I click the button for the Pocket extension in Chrome, and the URL gets saved to my Pocket account.

Or say I’m on my iPad and I’m using a mobile news app like Flipboard, Zite, or Pulse. They’ve all got Pocket baked in, meaning I can use the app’s sharing menus to save articles straight into Pocket.

Later, when I go to the Pocket site on the Web or fire up the Pocket app on my iPhone or iPad, all the articles I saved are there in my reading queue, arranged in a pretty wall of tiles with the most recently added material at the top. If I tap on a tile, Pocket shows a stripped-down version of the story text on a clean white background. (There’s a button for switching back to the original Web view, if it looks like something important is missing from the text view.)

I’ve been a power user of Evernote for so long that it’s basically the digital filing cabinet for my whole life. So if I want to keep a copy of a story forever, for reference purposes, my next step is usually to save it to Evernote. That’s easy since Evernote is one of the services accessible from Pocket’s own sharing menu, along with Buffer, Delicious, and many others. Once I’ve moved an article to Evernote, I can archive or delete it on Pocket, so that it disappears from my queue.

But now there’s an alternative to the Evernote maneuver. A couple of weeks ago Pocket introduced Pocket Premium, a $4.99-per-month service that marks its first venture into revenue generation. With Pocket Premium—which works with the iOS, Android, and versions of Pocket—a personal copy of every article you put in Pocket gets permanently saved on Pocket’s servers. That means the copy will be available even if the original version gets removed from the Web.

Like Evernote, Pocket lets you tag these archived articles for easier retrieval, and the company has also improved its tools for searching them. All of which means that Pocket itself is now a plausible long-term storage location for saved articles, as long you’re willing to keep paying the monthly fee. (Pocket comped me on the premium service so I could test it out.)

Personally, I think I’ll keep using Evernote as my personal archive, since I’ve already got thousands of articles stored there, and when I need something, it’s easier to search everything from one place. Also, Evernote has highlighting and annotation features that Pocket currently lacks. But it’s nice to know that there’s another copy of each of my articles on Pocket.

As happy as I am with Pocket, my overall reading workflow isn’t as streamlined as it could be. That’s partly because there are big media operations like the New York Times that haven’t yet integrated with Pocket. So if anyone from the Times digital design team is reading this: please think about adding Pocket and other services to the sharing menu in your iOS apps. Pocket and the other reading apps aren’t the enemies of for-profit news outlets. On the contrary, these apps make everything news companies publish more useful, without costing them a single page view.

A word about the Pocket queue. It’s so easy to put things in Pocket that you’ll probably end up with a Pocket collection so big you’ll never be able to get through it all. That’s okay—don’t stress out about it. But if your goal is to use the latest tech tools to manage your overall reading load, you do need to make a habit of spending some time with Pocket every day. I usually turn to the app when I have free time in the evenings, on the weekends, or in interstitial moments, like standing in the checkout line at the grocery store.

If you’d like to be a more productive, focused, informed, and creative person, then having an efficient system for managing your reading is just as important as having a good to-do list or a procedure for taming your e-mail inbox. “The most successful people I know don’t just read—they inhale information,” writes former Forbes executive editor Brett Nelson. The best way to join the ranks of what Nelson calls the “human Dyson vacuums” is to be a speed reader. But short of that, you can at least start using one of today’s friendly, flexible reading apps. Pocket is your best bet.

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  • bespoked

    Okay, I’m sold: I’ve signed up and am looking forward to trying Pocket out.

  • John

    Once Spritz is universally available will I finally be able to conquer my reading list (books included)..

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Spritz is intriguing, and I’ve tried it at speeds of up to 350 words per minute. Seems like it requires intense concentration. Not sure how long I could keep that up.

  • http://www.m-ecosystem.com Mark Lowenstein

    Wade, great piece… yet can’t seem to find Pocket when wanting to save Xconomy pieces… :)

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Mark: Thanks! Actually, Pocket isn’t one of the sharing options that typically gets included on a Web page, like the Twitter or Facebook icons. (Though it would be cool if the company made one of those.) Rather, individual readers have to install the browser extension or bookmarklet and activate it from your Chrome or Safari toolbar. Personally, I’d say Pocket as many Xconomy pieces as you want! It’s an extra page view for us.

  • livid lili

    Nice use of the phrase “interstitial moments” :)

  • John

    Thanks Wade, you’ve almost convinced me. But if I want to stick with the free version of Pocket, is the main advantage over a simple cross-platform bookmark service (even Chrome’s native service) that Pocket displays its “organizer” with more visual appeal? Thanks for your article.