Update (06/22/18). Instapaper replied yesterday directly to my question when their service will be available again to customers in the EU: “Sorry for the continued inconvenience. We’ll be documenting all the changes that have been made along the way and sharing them out once the service is back and that should clear things up. We wish things were progressing faster too, but I do feel pretty comfortable saying that there aren’t/won’t be any bad surprises involving your data. Other than that, there’s been steady progress, and we’re doing all we can to sore this out and make sure this is a minor blip in the grand scheme of Instapaper and our presence in Europe, and elsewhere. Thanks for bearing with us through this.”
Instead of reflecting on current music and technology trends I’d like to write about my reading and writing aka blogging workflow today. The main reason I do this is because it’s broken at the moment. More on that in a bit. In the spirit of learning out loud I want to explain why the apps of my workflow are important to me and what I do with them.
The Apple mobile and desktop browser is where I read articles initially coming from posted links on social media networks. If something catches my interest I avoid the in-app browser and call Safari to show me the article in its natural web habitat. There I quietly judge the design and marketing shenanigans like “read this in our app” and newsletter overlay before I even had the chance to see anything else etc. This gives me a feeling about the source and my experience kicks in if I deem it to be trustworthy and therefore consider to subscribe their RSS feed. Based on the level of insights and also length I forward the article in Safarai via sharing extension or browser bookmarklet to Instapaper for better reading and further processing.
The feed reader is my main source of reading input, this is where I organise RSS feeds into folders of interest and add and delete subscriptions. I read on a phone and on a laptop so I use Feedbin to keep my read and unread articles in sync across both devices. Silvio Rizzi made Reeder for both MacOS and iOS which I’ve been using for a long time. I like the user interface of Reeder a lot, it’s fast, feels sturdy and it doesn’t get in the way. As soon as my mind itches I skim the folders of feeds for new and interesting articles – which then get forwarded to Instapaper. Before Instapaper I’d mark interesting articles inside Reeder with a star. Important: no notification badge count on the Reeder app to gauge my action, the same is true for all other blogging workflow apps.
This service, the sharing extension (and the browser bookmarklet), its web interface as well as the mobile app quickly became my personal treasure trove of interesting things to read from the web which I saved there.
Its use to me is twofold: it strips an article to its core content and frees it from its design into a standard and very readable form. No ad interruption, no pagination, no bad design. Second it offers ways to process articles while you read them: you can mark sentences or paragraphs that are important to you, so you’ll find the interesting bits very quick when you come back later to it. Additionally you can comment on marked sentences or paragraphs to save your thoughts while reading. All marked and commented articles are collected in a notes folder for quick access to pick up where you left. Instapaper offers the ability to create article folders where you can move saved articles on different topics.
This kind of text processing Instapaper made possible became essential to me: to capture thoughts quickly when reading the article, come back later for the quotes in topic-organised folders.
The Apple design awarded Ulysses app is made by a company from my hometown Leipzig. I recommend this article in German about their history. At first I was looking for a mobile app focussing on writing and also the ability to post to a WordPress blog. I dismissed the WordPress app for mobile and desktop at first and tried Ulysses (they have apps for both mobile and desktop as well). The advantage is of course the local backup (or the cloud of your choice) of your written posts and drafts. The downside is the proprietary Markdown format Ulysses offers when you want to use pictures in your posts. To be able to edit this proprietary Markdown posts you need to opt-in for their subscription model. In my blogging workflow I use Ulysses for drafting posts and as a notebook for ideas when I’m on a train for instance.
This service had probably the most impact on me when it comes to quickly writing down and organising thoughts and outlines on a strategical and conceptual level. In Workflowy I organise also my to-dos for basically everything and not just blogging. I plan every project with it, do research and even use it as my personal knowledge base. Workflowy has great collaboration and content filtering features – still finding out about new use cases every month.
The mobile WordPress app by Automattic is part of my workflow because it gives me statistical insight on the go but more and more I find myself drafting posts directly there. I don’t use the “Reader” feature to follow other blogs because I have Reeder for that. Comment moderation on the go would be of use if I had the comments feature made available on posts.
My current blogging workflow
I’m getting an interesting signal from my feed reader or from social media networks, then I quickly scan it via Safari from where I potentially bookmark the article to Instapaper to read it later and process it further. From notes and comments in topic folders inside Instapaper I draft ideas for a blog post, sometimes in Ulysses, Workflowy or WordPress. When I’m done drafting I press publish in WordPress and the cycle starts again. Currently there are a small number of drafts inside WordPress which will probably rot there until I delete them because I tend to work on one idea at a time rather then on several simultaneously.
Why my blogging workflow is broken at the moment
Pinterest owned service Instapaper shut down its service for users in Europe on May 25th 2018 “to make changes in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)”. I have access to all articles saved until May 25th in the Instapaper app but desktop browser access is prohibited:
Two important parts of my blogging workflow are out of reach:
- bookmarking ‘n’ reading interesting articles later and
- organising ‘n’ processing them in a meaningful way.
I sincerely hope that the service is back online soon because I really got accustomed to the ease of use, the joy of distraction-free reading and the hands-on idea processing features.
Until November 1st 2016 I was a paying premium member of Instapaper. The service was acquired by Pinterest in Sommer 2016. The new owners decided then to make the premium tier free for everyone, because they were “better resourced” and thus “able to offer everyone the best version of Instapaper”. Back then I was surprised about this decision because it seemed a decent business model to me and I was a loyal and satisfied customer – so why make it free when software development is an costly and ongoing process anyway? This statement came to mind:
If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
Check out in which context this sentence was first made: User-driven discontent thread on MetaFilter in August 2010. Same year in November security expert Bruce Schneier was quoted in an article Facebook is “deliberately killing privacy”:
Schneier cited Facebook as the most heinous example of social networks cashing in on users’ openness toward sharing personal details. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product, its customers are the advertisers.”.
With Instapaper I never came across ads anywhere as far as I can remember. So the time when Pinterest acquired the service they decided to fully subsidise it? Could there be another way Pinterest made money from this online service? I didn’t know and I probably put my worrying thought that “I became then the product being sold” to rest simply because the service kept going on and using Instapaper became already mandatory in my reading habit. Beside that you can’t sell my reading & processing habit to anyone, can you? (This is a rhetorical question nowadays.)
So what is actually the problem for Instapaper to make their service compliant to GDPR when they claim to „not share information with outside parties except to the extent necessary to accomplish its functionality“?
At this point I really, really hope the delay to make the service compliant to GDPR is just sloppy project management and not something else, like revealing they belong to the GDPR Hall of Shame.
And if so, what would I do? Opt-out of sharing behaviour tracking inside the service and pretend they didn’t do it before? Will I trust this service like I did when I payed for it?
Lots of speculation on my end, but that is always the case when you’re a month in the dark and your workflow is broken.
Why my blogging workflow might be broken anytime again
I depend on services and tools in regards to my workflow. So which parts are crucial and which are not? List goes from “no sweat” to “please Lord, do not taketh away”:
Safari – nothing to worry about here in my book as long as sharing extensions are allowed and work. Apple is not going nowhere soon and they will always improve their browser.
WordPress – Automattic is a huge company and with WordPress they power a healthy chunk of the web, so they’ll be supporting and improving the mobile and desktop app most definitely.
Ulysses – although it’s a great company I’m not a writer to use their acclaimed software to the fullest potential. It sure does help me to write without any visual distraction but I’m not reliant on it.
Reeder – this one is a bit more critical because I really got used to the interface and I know it’s just one developer behind the mobil & desktop app and not a big company. He could stop at anytime and there is no obligation to his customers otherwise. I’d pay a yearly subscription fee to support further development though. At the end of the day and after a long mourning I’d find a new RSS feed reader app and carry on. Like using the web interface of Feedbin as an OPML/feed sync service (which I already use and there are a lot of similar services).
Workflowy – this service is not so much about blogging but thinking to me. It’s part of a creative process and blogging can be one result. The founder Jesse Patel is very committed to further development and I’m confident about it going strong for a while longer. I am a paying customer so there is at least somewhat of a binding commitment for the time being. Since it is used widely I can see a potential acquisition like it happened with Instapaper. I could look for an alternative outliner tool but I’d rather not.
Instapaper – this is originally the idea and work of Marco Ament who’s work and blog I’ve been useing and following for a long time, I respect him very much for his outspoken attitude and commitment to build things. I wished he would still run Instapaper. By now you know what I appreciate most of this service and I still can’t see myself switching to Pocket or else. This is a truly devastating comprehension: if you don’t pay for a service you also can’t complain about it when it stops working really. There is no contract going on. The users are simply depending on the mercy of the makers here. To me this is a situation comparable to July 2013 when Google Reader was shut down and there existed no alternative sync service. In other words: this is actually the worst case scenario – in action.
So I’m aware of the fragile character of my blogging workflow in regards to the services I rely on. At the moment I re-evaluate Pinboard again, I’ve used it a long time ago. This service is run by Maciej Ceglowski, a developer with a stance (read his talks). I have a feeling I could put it to good use as well.
Still hope Instapaper will be up again soon and with a clean record on privacy.
Write to me about your favorite blogging workflow if you dare, I’m interested. Email to my firstname at lastname dot de.