Note: This article has become somewhat outdated, though many of the tips and tricks below still work. For a more recent overview of Instapaper, see my Macworld article "The Expert's Guide to Instapaper."
* * *
Each time I think about how I read the web before Instapaper, I vomit a little bit. I actually used to stop what I was doing all the time to read things an inopportune times. I also missed a lot of great articles because I didn’t have the time to read them – and no practical way to save them.
But that was yesterday, before I figured out how to turn the colorful, noisy web to calming shades of black and gray.
Now, virtually all of the (interesting) URL droplets that rain steadily on my attention during the day flow through various workflow aqueducts – some wide, some narrow – but they ultimately funnel into a common Read Later reservoir: Instapaper.
I hear people rave about Instapaper all the time, but I rarely see them expound on their affection in any detail. This post is pretty much the most thorough thought dump of how Instapaper works for me in 5 categories:
- Uses for Instapaper folders
- Instapaper search
- Getting information into Instapaper
- Miscellaneous Instapaper extras online
- iOS Instapaper app options and tips
At the end, I wrap things up with my wish list for future Instapaper features.
1. Uses for Instapaper folders
By default, a new Instapaper account only has two folders: Unread and Archive, but you can add more. Here are some reasons you might want to:
- Use folders as parking places for content you want to blog, reference, or do other stuff with later. For example, if I read something I might want to reference here on PE, I move it to a PE folder. I’ve also used folders to store Cliffs Notes pages. You could also a add folder like “To Evernote” for stuff you want to clip up later. Instapaper folders offer a nearly effortless way to corral information for later use.
- Create an RSS feed for any folder, even starred items. Subscribe to it in Google Reader, or publish the feed somewhere for others to view. For example, if you want to share every article about Chilean birds you read, you can create a folder for that, then share the feed for that folder.
- Add a folder for another Instapaper user’s Starred items. You must know their Instapaper username.
- Create a “Videos” folder for video content that you’d rather watch at a full computer.
- Create folders that denote the amount of reading time needed for each article (1min, 5min, 15min, etc. or just “Long” and “Short”).
- Create folders for different genres of content (entertainment, technology, news, art).
- You can edit and reorder folders by clicking “edit folders” under your folder list online.
2. Instapaper search
Instapaper doesn’t currently offer a way to search archived articles, but there are a couple of tricks I use:
- Subscribe to your Unread folder’s RSS feed in Google Reader. You don’t necessarily have to read any of the articles in Google Reader, but you can use Google Reader to search the text of each article’s title. Google Reader keeps a long history of feed items.
- Export your Instapaper articles as a CSV or HTML file. Search the file for keywords, then past the URL into your browser.
3. Getting information into Instapaper
- The Read Later bookmarklet is the most well known way to save an article to Instapaper. It works in every browser worth a damn. The default Send To bookmarklet sends pages to your Unread folder, but you can also get one for any specific folder.
- I keep a "Send To" folder the bookmarks toolbar of every browser I use. I keep all of my Instapaper bookmarklets (and others) in that folder.
- If you use Google Reader, you can add Instapaper as a “send to” option. This is a quick way to move articles from Google Reader to Instapaper.
- Many mobile apps offer an option for sending links to Instapaper. A few I use all the time are Reeder and Osfoora HD (a Twitter app). More often than not, I send articles to Instapaper rather than read them in the app where I caught them. Even Android users can use the “Hard Copy” app to save URLs to Instapaper. Typically in an app that supports Instapaper, all you have to do is tap and hold a link to see the option to send to Instapaper.
- Add your unique Read Later Instapaper email address to your email contacts so you can forward links you receive through email straight to your Unread items. Don’t let links sit in email. Your Read Later address will look something like firstname.lastname@example.org, and it can be found under Instapaper Extras. Note: if you have the iOS app, see below for a quick way to add this address to your contacts without typing it.
- Email links from from your iPhone or iPad when you encounter links in apps without an Instapaper option. Most apps support email. You can also email directly from Safari on your iOS device.
- The subject line of the email you send to your Instapaper address will be the article title you see the next time you look at your Instapaper Unread folder. It’s totally editable too.
- Add links to your Unread folder manually by clicking the “Add +” link near the top of your Instapaper page.
4. Miscellaneous Instapaper extras online
- Use the text bookmarklet to instantly view any page in Instapaper format (does not save page to your Instapaper account). Aside: Readability is another cool (non-Instapaper) way to unclutter web pages.
- Find great articles at givemesomethingtoread.com, a collection of the top articles bookmarked on Instapaper. Each article has its own Read Later button. Give Me Something to Read is a Tumblr site, so you can follow it there too.
- Have your Instapaper items delivered wirelessly to your Kindle device (if you have one).
5. iOS Instapaper app options and tips
- Adjust font size and style in the reading view.
- Adjust the brightness setting in the reading view. I usually go for the dimmest setting I can see comfortably – particularly if reading in a dark or dimly lit room.
You can create folders that watch specific RSS feeds. Just add a new folder in the iOS app, and you’ll see an option called “go to a specific site.” This is only available in iOS apps, not at Instapaper.com.[Update: This feature was removed in version 3.0.]
- Define words by tapping and holding. The built-in dictionary is one of the most powerful but undersold features of the app, in my opinion.
- Tap the share icon at the top of the page to send the article by email, post to Twitter, or Tumblr. You can also quote specific chunks of text on Tumblr directly from the Instapaper app. Just tap, hold, select text, and then tap share.
- Install the Read Later bookmarkets in iOS safari. Go to the Instapaper app settings, and you’ll see instructions.
- Quickly add your unique Instapaper email address to your iOS contacts by going to the Instapaper app Settings and tapping “Add Read Later by Email.”
- Turn on pagination by tapping the page icon in the reading view. When pagination is on, you can flip through articles one page at a time (no scrolling). I find this useful for longer articles.
- Adjust line spacing in the reading view settings.
The future of Instapaper
Instapaper is very popular right now. Its future is probably bright given that the founder of Instapaper, Marco Arment, recently left his position as lead developer of Tumblr to focus on Instapaper.
Here are a few wish list items I have for Instapaper:
- Native archive search online and in the iOS app.
- More support for direct RSS feeds. I think Instapaper could evolve into an RSS feed reader.
- Add PDF support. PDF are very pesky in my “read later” workflow. If I could somehow “pin” them to my Unread folder in Instapaper, that would be huge.
- Partner with popular magazines and newspapers to have content delivered in Instapaper format.
Let me know which Instapaper tips and tricks I missed.
Update: Thanks to Andy in the comments and David Sparks for pointing out the new Instapaper subscription service that I overlooked. For only $1 per month, you can support Instapaper. I have little doubt that good things will come to Instapaper subscribers.
Update 3: Instapaper 3.0 represents a brand new design. My favorite addition are the social features that make finding articles "liked" by friends super easy. Marco also removed the RSS feed option in this release.