Boring Reading Stack

• 5 min read

Like you my dear reader, I discover many articles and essays everyday I would like to read. I either find them through Twitter, RSS, Reddit or just from links friends send me.

For many years I used to just add these articles to my "Read-it-later"-queue in Instapaper or Pocket, but never actually took the time to clear the queue. It's nice that these services strip ads and other cruft out of the text, but reading a long-form article for 10-15 minutes on my phone or laptop just isn't for me. The internet – with all it's distractions – is looming just an ⌘+Tab away.

Eventhough I've removed allmost all feeds out of my life years ago, my brain still couldn't focus on a single task. It craved to see something different every other minute.

Over the last few months, things improved drastically. I started reading more and more of my queued articles, essays and newsletters. The main driver behind this was … my Kindle. I have this e-ink reader since 2013 and mainly used it like most other owners: To read e-books. When I went on vacations or long train rides I had it with me. The remaining time, it just sat on my bedside table; unused and forgotten.

Earlier this year though, I've subscribed to Instapaper. A subscription gives me access to a feature to send a weekly digest of saved articles to my Kindle.

Usage immediately went throug the roof. I started reading saved articles during lunch break, while making dinner or when I go for a walk and sit on a park bench on a sunny afternoon. In contrast to last year, my Kindle is now always in by bag, filled with different essays, long-form newsletters or books to read.

The geek I am, I've set up a system to connect all content sources together, so that I can share content to Instapaper – and ultimately to my Kindle.[1]

The Stack #

As mentioned, my "Boring Reading Stack" uses Instapaper and my Kindle as the primary services to read content. Instapaper is fed by articles and essays I discover through Twitter/ Reddit/newsletters I'm subscribed to and by RSS feeds I follow.

Diagram showcasing how my Boring Reading Stack is built together. It shows connections between Feedbin and Instapaper and my Browser and Instapaper. The final connection is between Instapaper and Kindle.

My RSS reader of choice is Feedbin. In addition to just managing RSS feeds from websites, it also supports subscribing to newsletters. I use this feature to subscribe to a couple long-form newsletters which don't contain a lot of links.[2]. The feature also prevents my mail inbox from overflowing with "to be read" newsletters and becoming another todo list. (I know that I can forward emails to Instapaper, but having newsletters directly in Feedbin saves me this step and "reading content" is already in the place where I expect new "reading content" to appear.)

Feedbin also natively supports sharing items to Instapaper through keyboard shortcuts. When I navigate through Feedbin and an RSS item looks interesting, I ususally share it directly to read it later in Instapaper.

I've also set up some basic rules to automatically queue up some newsletter subscriptions to be read later via Feedbins actions system. When a new specific feed item arrives in Feedbin, it is automatically marked as starred. The RSS feed of all my starred items is then piped through IFTTT to Instapaper.[3]

Reading content on a device that doesn't glow and doesn't have an internet collection all the time, helped my mind to slow down again.

My queue still contains ca. 200 saved articles, videos and essays, but it declines. From time to time I also go through the back-catalogue and remove no longer relevant and very old items from the queue.

Together with canceling Netflix[4] and reducing the amount of general news content I consume per week, this has been one of the better decisions I've made during the last 12 months.

Instapaper isn't perfect though and I had a couple days where I thought: "Man, just build your own read-it-later service and solve these glaring issues yourself"[5]. Here are a couple of things I would like to see improved:

  • A general attention to care. Instapaper released a Mac app in November 2020. It seems to be mediocre Catalyst app based on their mobile app with a couple of features missing – like highlighting text; a premium feature I often use.
  • A better search. Search is another premium feature and quite a letdown. I can search for a single, very specific word – where I know it only exists in a single article – but still see 10 results. Clicking on a result then doesn't highlight the searched term, so that I have to search again through ⌘+F.
  • A more public API. Currently you have to reach out to the Instapaper team to get access to the read (!) API. Would love to see a developer section in my profile, where I can issue my own API tokens.

I'm sure the team behind Instapaper is nice and cool and probably aware of these issues. It seems they just doesn't have the resources to fix them.

  1. Some services allow to share to Kindle directly. However, I would like to have a copy of everything I read in Instapaper. I see it as my "consumption archive". ↩︎

  2. I don't want to and/or can't open those links on my Kindle anyway. Most of the time it's not connected to the internet ↩︎

  3. It sounds more complicated than it is. I could make this system simpler by subscribing to newsletters directly with my secret Instapaper inbound email address, but that's not always possible. ↩︎

  4. I've cancelled my Netflix subscription a year ago. The quality of shows available on Netflix plummeted over the years while the quantity of shows exploded. When I watched something on Netflix, it was an already familiar show. Now, I deriliberately take some time each month and either rent a movie or watch an old DVD on Plex ↩︎

  5. The only thing preventing me from starting such a project is the Kindle integration. Have to figure out, how to create such "magazines" on my own. ↩︎