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Content collection - The power of Check-Later apps

How do you consume media? - It sounds like a silly question, but I think it’s very much worth thinking about it. After all, we spend a considerable amount of time doing it. It might be to research something specific, to learn something new, or simply to entertain ourselves. The internet provides a rich resource of information, but it’s probably also the most distracting source.

We might start the browser to check some specific information, but as we go, we find another article on the side that catches our attention. It sounds too interesting to dismiss! The article might link to an exciting video on youtube. Of course, we want to see it, and it only takes 2 minutes after all! But once you are on youtube, you probably all know how easy it is to get in an open-loop. Our initial search to look up information on having a pet might eventually end with kitten videos on youtube (and they can go even much further..). Yes, they are cute, but is it helpful to decide at this moment?

I know this example is very contrived and ridiculous, but surely most of us regularly get into these open loops.

And for me, this situation was also tricky. On the one hand, I didn’t want to dismiss interesting articles, but I also felt conscience-stricken about getting distracted by content that is not relevant at this moment. Of course, there are easy ways around this. Some use bookmarks, and others like to keep 50+ tabs open in their browser (I was astounded when I saw this!). But I believe that save-for-later apps provide several benefits over classical bookmarks (and the tabs option, of course).

The benefits of Check-Later apps

  • Avoid open loops

    I think that it needs an active effort to resist the temptation of checking an interesting but currently irrelevant article or video. In fact, platforms are designed to take us into this open-loop trap of consumption. That’s good for their success, but do you want this? Having a dedicated place to store and the mindset of content collection helped me escape the open-loops more often. Also, I didn’t particularly like cluttering my bookmarks, intended for quickly accessing frequently visited websites, with specific content I want to checkout (this list can grow quickly..). Now, I can read whenever I want to and also don’t miss out on good content.

  • Easily find what you want

    I like to save my content in categories. The Check-Later app lets me choose a topic and get access to all the related resources. What makes this better than bookmarks is that you have a keyword search that checks all your articles’ content - very neat! Also, I can archive articles after having read them and still access them later through search.

  • More selective content choices

    Whenever I see something that catches my attention now, I think twice if I really want to consume this. For once, it takes slightly more effort than just clicking on the link (so lazy, I know). Secondly, I know that it will have to compete with all the other appealing stuff on my list.

  • Knowledge conservation

    Besides the benefit of quickly retrieving old content, it also provides the ability to store highlights of articles and attach notes. It is then possible to extract your highlights and notes and review them. I’m forgetful of details, and statistics show that the majority does, so I like to be reminded of interesting ideas. Also, I like how these old ideas connect with others and expand. It makes me feel more convinced that what I’m reading now is not just for the moment but part of something bigger that grows over time.

  • Reading experience

    In a read-later app, every article is displayed plainly as text, like a book, without all the distractions on websites. Also, when used on a mobile app, you can access them offline.

    With Instapaper you have a good overview of your content and quickly find old articles and notes through search.

Apps

  • Instapaper

    This one is my favorite because of its clean and simplistic interface and the ability to attach notes to my highlights. Unfortunately, the free version is limited to five notes per month and doesn’t support a full-text search for all articles. But the free version is good to try it out and enough for light usage. For developers, it also provides an Open API (I might try this in the future). Compared to its close competitor, Pocket, its premium version is also significantly cheaper ($29.99/year ~€23).

  • Pocket

    Its basic principle is very similar to Instapaper but provides slightly more functionality (tags, text to speech..). The free version is limited to 3 highlights per article (which I find very restrictive) and doesn’t include a full-text search. Its premium version is €39.99/year.

  • Raindrop.io

    It’s the closest option to the classical bookmark manager but is much more attractive and powerful. You can organize links in folders, attach tags, and it has a beautiful interface. The premium version also provides full-text search and full download of the websites, but it also has good free functionality. Be aware, however, that it doesn’t support text highlighting nor note-taking.

  • Readwise

    This app is different and intended as an extension of a check-later app. It builds on the idea of knowledge conservation and lets you revisit your ebook & article highlights. According to your preferences, it provides five selected highlights per day as part of spaced repetition. Simply put, it is the Anki version for what you read. You can also include gaps in the highlight or reformulate it as a question to trigger your memory. The premium version even supports export to Evernote & Notion. You can connect it to a wide variety of services such as Instapaper and Pocket, but it also supports Twitter, Kindle, PDF import, Airr (currently iOS only, but great for highlighting in Podcasts), and many more. This app is, however, not free and distinguishes between a Lite version ($4.49 billed annually or $4.99 billed monthly) and the full version ($7.99 billed annually or $8.99 billed monthly). Students also enjoy a 50% discount. I agree that this is quite some money for the basic functionality to review your highlights, and I still have to figure out if it’s worth the price for me.

    However, it provides a free month trial for everyone, and the invitation system puts an extra free month on top. So I think it’s worth giving it a shot. If you want to try it out, you are welcome to use my referral link, which grants both of us an extra free month. It would also be interesting for me to hear your opinion on it! It could also be interesting to develop such a service (for import in Anki maybe?). The Instapaper API and an article on how to export Kindle highlights inspired me to maybe try it out in the future.

Conclusion

I find this system very helpful to be more aware and selective about what I consume, and I enjoy the distraction-free reading experience with the ability to attach my thoughts to it. Previously, I had a hard time locating once read articles, so I find the full-text search very powerful. While the free app versions are limited to light usage, I feel that the provided value is very much worth the few Euros per month. But as always, the best way to find out if it is for you is by trying out yourself. I’d be happy to hear about your experience!

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