Easier saving from your favorite sites

I spent the weekend building a chrome extension that lets you Save to Instapaper directly on your favorite sites. Now when you go to Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, and the Digg homepage, you should see an “Instapaper” link to save the article for later. 

Grab it here.

We’ve got a ton of other great features planned for our browser extensions, and we’ll be rolling them out over the next couple of months. If you have any feature requests, or if we didn’t make it easier to save links from your favorite website please let us know in the comments!

Best,
Brian, brian@betaworks.com

@bthdonohue

Instapaper iOS Background Updates

We just published an update to the Instapaper iOS app to include background updates! The team has been using it for about a week, and it’s pretty magical… No more remembering to open Instapaper to download your latest articles before entering the subway, your articles are just there waiting for you.

As with any type of background process, there may be a little extra drain on your battery life. If that’s something that is a major problem, you can disable Instapaper background updates by going to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and turn Instapaper background updates off.

 

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And of course we implemented background app updates while respecting your Instapaper Update settings. We’ll only execute background app updates if your settings are configured to “Automatic Updates” or “WiFi Only Updates” while you’re on a WiFi network. So there’s no need to worry about Instapaper running up usage on your cellular data plan.

We’ve also kept the “Background Location Updates” hack for those of you still on iOS6 and iOS5, or who just like having your content delivered when you leave a location.

This is a feature a ton of you asked for, and we accelerated the update in response to your feedback. In the coming months we’re planning on implementing a better, more efficient, more instant way to sync your iOS device with your Read Later articles.  Stay tuned!


— Brian

brian@betaworks.com

@bthdonohue

What to Read Next : InstaRank - v1.0

One of our ambitions since taking on Instapaper has been to build useful ways to make the reading experience more productive.  To us, that means making it easy to find the best article to read (or video to view) for the moment you’re in.  To that end, we’ve added a bunch of sorting and filtering capabilities into the new iOS 7 app for iPhones.  (They’ll show up in the very near future on our iPad and Android apps, and in the web interface.)

It has long been evident that users want more and better ways to find particular articles in their “Read Later” queues.  It can be pretty unsatisfying to scroll endlessly through items in reverse chronological order.  Some highly useful sorting and ranking can be done in a straightforward way, such as ordering your articles by article length or date.  But the power of data and algorithms can enable much more interesting, useful, and personalized tools for ranking.

The newly released Instapaper 5.0 features InstaRank, Instapaper’s first algorithmic ranking and sorting system for your saved links.

A web link’s InstaRank is determined by the following factors:

  • The number of overall saves/reads/likes on the link.

  • The number of saves on the link in the last 4 hours, indicating trending nature.

  • The age of the link, since it was first seen in the Instapaper world.

  • The popularity of the link within its domain, meaning the number of saves/reads/likes on the link compared to the domain average.

  • The popularity of the domain compared to other domains in the Instapaper world, meaning the domain average saves/reads/likes compared to other domains in the last 2 weeks.

  • Whether we see a link from some lesser known domain that receives surprising levels of attention, measured by saves/reads/likes.

To fully shape InstaRank, we explored questions like “Did many web pages of this domain get likes, or did just one article get many hits?” and “Have links of this domain performed well historically, measured in terms of likes, reads, saves?”. We found users prefer some web domains or sources of information more than others, and used visualizations like the one shown below (which shows the top 18 domains that Instapaper users most interacted with on Sept. 4th, 2013) to identify what domains might generate popular links.

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We also knew that the buzz around older articles decays with time and newer articles start gaining interest, but found this pattern to be less straightforward than we hoped. As it turns out, over 66% of Instapaper users read/like/share an article approximately 3-5 days after they bookmark it, which causes the number of reads/likes on an article to rise significantly beyond the 4th day or in the first weekend after it is bookmarked. We needed to adjust InstaRank’s popularity decay function to suit this user behavior.

Try InstaRank for yourself through the Popularity sort in your “Read Later” list on the iPhone. We would love to hear your feedback and suggestions on features to incorporate (or scrap) when ranking and whether it’s helping you sort, explore and discover great content to read next on Instapaper.

And keep an eye out for future versions, which will leverage social trending scores and categorical classification of links.

— Suman Deb Roy, @_RoySD

Instapaper 5.0 for iOS 7 - What’s New

And voila!  As of a few minutes ago, there’s an all-new Instapaper in the App Store. Instapaper 5.0 has a updated look and feel, new features for sorting, filtering, and managing your reading queue, and is translated into 13 languages.  We’re really excited for you to start using it.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new:

  • New look and feel. We’ve further simplified and refined the Instapaper user experience, and harmonized it with iOS 7 design paradigms.  We hope you’ll find it a bit more beautiful, a bit more intuitive, but still every bit as clean, straightforward, and useful as Instapaper’s always been.
  • Sorting and filtering.  You can now sort your reading list in a bunch of useful ways:
    • Most recently saved to oldest saved
    • Oldest saved to most recently saved
    • Longest to shortest
    • Shortest to longest
    • Most popular to least popular
    • Random shuffle

Our data shows that almost all users save more articles than they have time to read.  These more powerful and flexible sorting tools will help users quickly find the right articles at the right time. For example, you can now filter your queue by reading time, so whether you have a 10 minute subway ride or are in the mood for a hour’s worth of sustained deep-dive reading, you can find articles that fit your availability.

Our new Popularity sort is probably the most interesting feature in this update. We used a variety of Instapaper data signals (how many times an article was saved, how often it’s been opened, how often it gets read , and how many likes, saves, and shares it got from users) to calculate a popularity score for each article.  Our algorithm then takes that data, applies some weighting and time decay functions, and ranks your queue. 

  • Videos.  We’ve now got improved parsing, display, and playback for videos.  And we’ve added a dedicated Video tab to make it easy to find and play the videos you’ve saved.
  • New and improved Sepia theme.
  • Improved parsing of articles, meaning vastly fewer screwy pages, missing text, messed-up images.
  • Darker splash screen, for a better, less blinding night reading experience.
  • Translated into 13 languages!  Instapaper is now available in Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Dutch, and Polish.  If your iPhone is set to one of those languages, Instapaper will appear in that language, too.

So we’ve now updated the Instapaper website and launched the new Instapaper 5.0 app for iOS 7.  What’s next? Well we’re already hard at work on Instapaper 5.1 for iOS, focusing on a wide array of improvements and optimizations for the iPad and some iOS 7 specific updates. We’ll also be rolling out a hugely upgraded Instapaper app for Android and an Instapaper browser extension/add-on for Chrome and Safari.

 Thank you for using Instapaper!  We want to build the app you want, with the features you want, that works the way you want.  Please send us your feedback, suggestions, and (not that there are any, but, you know, just in case) bug reports.

Redesigning Instapaper on the Web

“Well-written content is out there, and we do have opportunities every day to read it — just not when we’re in information-skimming, speed-overload mode.”

- Marco Arment, in the old Instapaper FAQ

We rolled out the redesigned Instapaper website today.

When I got the opportunity to redesign the Instapaper website my goal was to do justice to the service Instapaper provides. In the FAQ quoted above, Marco referred to the “information-skimming, speed-overload mode” we often enter while surfing. I think of Instapaper as a place I can go to take a break from that mode, and I wanted the design of the website to signal and support that break.

To do that I focused on simplicity. Your Instapaper tab should be a refuge from the infinite-scrolling, content-suggesting feeds vying for your attention across the web. A place where the content you know you want to see is supported by design that gets out of the way.

Of course that’s easy to say, and it’s even relatively easy to achieve that state of relaxing simplicity at the beginning of a refresh. The real fight is in maintaining it as you add features back in. I was determined both to guard that simplicity and to build a base that could support additional features without collapsing into incoherence. You can see some of how that struggle played out in my previous post on folders, the feature where I had the greatest difficulty balancing feature utility and overall simplicity.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to fight out the decisions of the new design on the Unread page. Luckily, I had some great models of the content-focused experience I wanted to create in the Instapaper iPhone and iPad apps. One of the first things I did was bring the article preview from the iPhone onto the web, and that preview remained a foundational element throughout the redesign.

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Early versions of the design focused on incorporating some of the app elements into previous centered page layout. I have a certain amount of skepticism of web pages being app-ified just for the sake of it, but eventually, I made the jump to the current two-column app layout. I was won over by the new layout’s possibilities for consistency across web and mobile, and I also liked the simplicity the two (well, sometimes three) column limitation would enforce.

You can view a relatively complete history of the Unread page iterations on LayerVault.

As the Unread page evolved, I took the patterns from there and applied them to the rest of the site. Fonts, page headers, icons, action menus, all got standardized. The article page view got a complete overhaul, again following the model of the mobile apps  and your reading progress now syncs on the web!

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On the landing page, I tried to preserve some of the spareness and clarity of the previous design while also having a little fun (and indulging my addiction to drawing devices in CSS).


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In all of this I was influenced by the great app and responsive web work I saw around me. Our stablemates Digg had their clean and trim Reader app out, MailChimp had just introduced their app-y redesign and Kippt had a nice, flat, two-column app. Looming largest of all in my mind was Rdio, whose thoughtful, context-appropriate consistency across web, desktop, and mobile apps has greatly influenced my ideas about how cross-device coherency can support a great experience.

Overall, I’m very happy with the consistency throughout the website, and excited about the base it provides for further development in conversation with the mobile apps. Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear feedback and answer any questions in the comments below.

-Grant

On Folders

Hi, this is Grant. I’ve been working on the Instapaper website redesign. An overview of our thoughts behind the new design is coming, but in the meantime I’d love to get more of your feedback on what has been one of the trickiest aspects of it: Folders.

Instapaper Folders are set up so that an article can only live in one place at a time. This means that adding an article to one folder takes it out of your main Unread feed (which is actually the Read Later folder), and archiving that article removes it from the folder. This can be confusing if you’re coming to them from a different model (such as an RSS reader), where articles can live in multiple places.

If you’re an Instapaper user who doesn’t use folders and this post is already stressing you out, don’t worry. One of our goals is to make sure the 80% of our users who don’t use folders never have to think about them. There are users who find folders essential to Instapaper though, and we’re determined that they get the most out of them.

If you’ve been stopping by the beta regularly, you’ve seen the folder location shift around a bit as we look for the best solution. Today, we pushed an update where folders are revealed via a toggle button on the top Unread bar:

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This option seems to me to best balance the needs of the non-folder and power folder user. It also takes better advantage of the horizontal space available. The tradeoff is in initial discoverability, as the toggle might not be noticeable on first glance.

We’d love to hear more about your folder use and whether this solutions fits with it. We know that besides organizing your reading into categories, some of you use folders to separate out media types or store articles for later sharing. 

Let us know how you use folders, either in the comments below or at grant@betaworks.com.

-Grant

Ready for your testing: the new Instapaper web beta

When the betaworks team sat down with Instapaper’s creator, Marco Arment, back in April to get a download of his ideas and to-dos for improving Instapaper, the first thing on his list was to update the Instapaper website. Well we’ve done it, and it’s now ready for you to check out and test.

Check it out here: beta.instapaper.com (just log in with your usual Instapaper account credentials).

We’d love your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, condemnations, or bug or error reports.  Please send feedback by email to lexi@help.instapaper.com, and any page errors or formatting weirdness to support@help.instapaper.com.

We’ve also set up a mailing list for anyone who wants to get early access to future Instapaper betas.  You can sign up for our early access list here.

Coming up next:  New versions of the Instapaper iOS and Android apps, rife with excellent new features (like useful ways to sort and filter your unread items) but staying true to Instapaper’s core values of clean design, intuitive interfaces, and non-nonsense functionality.  We’re also building a mobile web interface, browser extensions and add-ons for the major web browsers, improved subscription and customer support infrastructure, new social integrations, RSS support, and many other things besides.



We’re Listening

As we put the finishing touches on Instapaper’s new website, we thought we’d let you know it’s starting to come together.

You wanted us to refresh the website design for Instapaper, so our designer Grant listened, and then designed a beautiful, more functional, and not blindingly white layout.

You requested that we don’t add a million unnecessary features, so we didn’t. In fact, we spent most of our time simplifying the existing features, so you can focus on saving and reading articles. Except we’re reading geeks, so we added some new fonts, text size, and background color that add a little life to your text.

You asked that we not mess up Instapaper’s simple functionality, so we did some legwork to optimize for stability and flexibility. We know that Instapaper has become a crucial, trusted part of your day-to-day lives –  so we’ve committed to keeping your articles safe and synced, no matter what.

Our product roadmap is constructed from your ideas, burning requests and pet peeves, so hopefully you’ll be pleased with the results. Stay tuned for what’s next, and please keep the feedback coming.

Thanks again for your collaborative efforts – we couldn’t have done it without you.

- Lexi

Almost… there…: A New, Improved Infrastructure

After a few weeks of intensive engineering and prep, we’re now ready to move Instapaper onto a new, vastly improved back-end infrastructure. We’re starting the cut-over shortly after midnight US ET (4am UTC), and will finish at most a few hours later. We’re moving both production code and large databases, so Instapaper will be down for a bit. We apologize in advance, and we’ll do everything we can to keep the downtime to an absolute minimum.

It’ll be worth it.  The new infrastructure will be significantly more reliable, stable, and scalable.  We’ve been experiencing more and more problems with our increasingly (and sometimes puzzlingly) finicky dedicated machines.  When you look under the hood, Instapaper’s back-end has proven to be an amazing piece of engineering, running smoothly for years on end with minimal human intervention.  But our machines themselves haven’t been keeping up with our needs.  (That’s no knock on our hosting company, by the way;  they’ve been great.).

By moving to a beefier, more redundant cloud-based infrastructure, users should notice that there’s less to notice. In a good way.

This is the first in a long list of Instapaper improvements you’re going to be seeing over the next few months.  We got incredibly useful user input via this blog over the past week, and will post a summary of that and an overview of our roadmap for Instapaper later this week.

Thanks for your patience and support. May The Force be with us.

—andrew

Instapaper: Your Input, Please

So it’s time.  It’s been a few weeks since betaworks took responsibility for Instapaper.  With Marco’s cheerful, tireless help, we’ve dug into the infrastructure, explored its nooks and crannies, and mapped out a plan to upgrade performance and improve reliability.  Details on that very soon.

But what’s really cool is that we’ve pulled together some first-rate talent to get to work on Instapaper.  Following the usual betaworks model, we’re going to staff Instapaper with a small but scrappy team of dedicated developers (like, 2 or 3); in the short term, we’re also tapping the expertise of people across the betaworks family with skills in design and user experience, front-end web interfaces, mobile applications, back-end engineering, data science, operations, content extraction.  With their help, we’re going to build a better Instapaper.

And that’s where you come in.  We need the input of Instapaper users.  We want to know what new features you’d like, what current features need tweaking, what functions should work better. For starters, Marco gave us his own pretty detailed to-do list, including some interesting things he’s built but not yet launched or completed.  We also picked up a lot of feedback from recent Twitter traffic. If you have thoughts, we’d be grateful if you’d put them into writing and add them below, in the comments to this post.  (We’ve switched on Disqus, which we use elsewhere and seems to be a solid platform for comments).

Here are some of the ideas we’ve seen already:

  • Proceed with care: Instapaper is awesome; don’t screw it up. It’s a clean, elegant, and highly useful app;  don’t clutter up the interfaces or feature sets. Do the basics really well, don’t add a million unnecessary features.
  • Text: Improve the parser / text engine / content extractor. Make it so that every article is presented perfectly, with complete text and images where they’re supposed to appear.
  • Web: Refresh the website design for Instapaper. Make it beautiful and more functional, without losing the simplicity. Add a search bar.
  • Browser plug-ins: Build Instapaper browser extensions.
  • Bookmarklet: Make the Instapaper bookmarklet work with Feedly and other RSS readers, just like it now does with Google Reader.
  • Integrations: Improve Instapaper integration with Twitter and the leading Twitter clients, WordPress, Tumblr, Evernote, Dropbox, App.net. E.g., make it easier to save links from Twitter directly to Instapaper.
  • Sync across devices: Remember and synchronize article reading progress across all the user’s devices.
  • Start-up screen: Make the start-up screen something that’s not blindingly white, or at least not when the app is in night mode.
  • Post-reading options: Add separate buttons for “Archive” and “Delete”, for one-touch action after reading an article.
  • Mobile app design:  Add some new, useful sidebar features to the mobile app. Add a shuffle button to pull up a random article from the unread queue. Add optional article counts for folders and the unread queue.
  • iPad app design: Give iPad users the option to hide the sidebar.
  • Kindle: Let users select specific articles to be sent to Kindle in their weekly batch, and to download an entire folder (perhaps up to some limit) to Kindle.  Fix the way images appear on the Kindle.
  • Subscription sites: Work with the New York Times and other subscription-supported sites to enable full-text access for subscribers.
  • Highlighting, annotations, tags: Allow users to add, save, and share highlights and annotations.  Enable user tagging of articles.
  • RSS: Make it possible to ingest RSS feeds directly into Instapaper.
  • Desktop: Build a desktop Instapaper application for OSX (and/or Windows and/or Linux).
  • Unlike:  Permit the unliking of liked articles.
  • Security: Support secure cookies, default https, and https + HSTS headers.

Some of these are fantastic ideas, some perhaps not.  At this point, we want to make sure we’ve got a reasonably complete grasp of Instapaper users’ ideas, suggestions, thoughts, and requests.  We plan to do a ton of work on Instapaper over the coming months.  We will do our best to keep you well-informed, to seek your feedback, and to make Instapaper better than it was before.  Better… stronger… faster.