37

After declaring Pocket bankruptcy, I made my own minimal read-it-later app

3 days ago from , iOS Developer & Designer

I went through this phase many times:

  1. Try a read-it-later app (Pocket/Instapaper/Safari/etc.)
  2. Roughly manage to catch up and clear the list.
  3. The growing list of articles starts to become overwhelming.
  4. 1000 saved articles later, the list grows so big I’m scared to even open the app.
  5. Start afresh with another app and a clean empty list. Repeat.

And there was also this feature in Safari Reading List that I found very efficient.

At the bottom of each page, Safari injects a direct link to the next page in the list. No need to go back up to the list, spend time picking something to read from an endless list of titles and minuscule thumbnails. Just give me the next page so that I quickly scan it, maybe remember why I save it, and if not, let me dismiss it and move on to the next page immediately.

So I decided to build my own opinionated take on what should be a minimal read-it-later app that values my reading time, with the following principles.

  • There’s no list. Pages are arranged into a queue.
  • Opening the app shows directly the first page in the queue, and nothing else.
  • I should decide to read or archive page #1 before moving to page #2. Articles are less likely to be left forgotten in the queue because I review them all, one by one.
  • Edge-swiping left marks the current page as archived, and displays the next one, with no waiting time because it was preloaded in the background.
  • The current page can be snoozed (which puts it at the back of the queue) if I would rather read something else, but only up to 3 times. If I keep postponing reading it, it’s probably not worth my time.
  • The app nudges me if the page I’m reading was saved more than 30 days ago, encouraging me to let it go since apparently, my life did not depend on it.
  • Every page shows an estimated read time.
  • The whole list is measured in cumulative reading time, a metric more meaningful than the number of pages. This helps me realize I’m saving more than I can humanly read, and act on it by archiving pages I find not so interesting.
  • I can go nuclear and empty the queue to start afresh anytime.

I named this app “Reading Queue”, it’s currently available on iPhone, and desktop browser extensions will be ready early next year.

In the meantime, even though I’ve been happily using that app for 2 years, it’s a bit radical and experimental, and I’d love to hear people feedback about it. If you're curious, please get it on the App Store

33 comments

  • Patrick Marx, 3 days ago

    Saving this article for later...

    12 points
    • Cody FitzpatrickCody Fitzpatrick, 1 minute ago

      Same. Cannot wait for desktop versions (browser extensions, according to Greg).

      Greg, perhaps you could put up a simple landing page with an email opt-in for a waiting list on the desktop versions? I'd have already opted in if there was one!

      0 points
  • Alex Johnson, 1 day ago

    This is really well done. I'm just jealous that there isn't an android and or web version :'''(

    6 points
    • , 17 hours ago

      Sorry about that, I don't have the ressources to work on an Android version. I'm hoping to ship desktop browser extensions in the following weeks though!

      1 point
  • Corin EdwardsCorin Edwards, 2 days ago

    This is lovely, the onboarding in particular is a delight.

    I'm not a fan of the snooze 3 times only, but do I like that as an author you're taking a position.

    I'm an inbox ∞ type of person that sees messages, articles, films etc. as a stream to dip in and out of instead of an obstacle to be cleared.

    2 points
    • Greg de J, 2 days ago

      This onboarding, though far from perfect, is the result of multiple trials and errors, so it's just a relief to read your message ❤️

      Also, I completely acknowledge the limited snoozes is quite radical, and frankly I had even more extreme ideas in mind, like abandoned articles self-destructing themselves after a given number of days. I'm still not set on that, and of course it would be possible to disable it, but making it the default may help removing the "obstacles" as you said, for some people with FOMO and procrastination issues.

      Thanks for the great feedback Corin!

      1 point
      • Adam MarsdenAdam Marsden, 16 hours ago

        App is fantastic! One thing I need to point out though I'm on iPhone SE and the onboarding parts are off my screen as I can tell it was designed for the larger screens. Just wanted to point that out!

        2 points
        • , 16 hours ago

          Ouch, very sorry about that Adam. I did run tests on iPhone SE but maybe not with the right environment (text size settings, etc).

          Do you remember which part got cut off? By any luck, was it the step-by-step instructions above the iOS share menu?

          Thank you for the lovely compliment!

          1 point
          • Adam MarsdenAdam Marsden, 14 hours ago

            Yup it was the step-by-step instructions!

            2 points
            • , 10 hours ago

              I suspect that in the iOS simulator, the share menu is actually smaller because it does not show the AirDrop section area at the top. I'll see whether I can make it scrollable at the very least. Adding that to my list. Thanks Adam!

              0 points
    • Peter Zimon, 6 hours ago

      Love the app and the fact that it’s opinionated! Onboarding is really nice, the only minor thing that might not be obvious is what to do after adding the app in the share menu to move on to the next step (tap on the icon).

      0 points
  • Bob WassermannBob Wassermann, 1 day ago

    This is really well done. Thanks Greg, this might be the first read it later service I'll actually use. Really like how it isn't just an overwhelming list.

    2 points
    • , 1 day ago

      Yeah, these days I grew allergic to apps forcing me to scan endless lists... Thanks Bob!

      2 points
  • Peter Zimon, 4 hours ago

    Nice job! I would really love an iPad version.

    1 point
    • , 3 hours ago

      Thanks Peter! Damn, I'd love that too...

      I made a basic prototype with a stretched UI on my iPad, and not only it looks like shit, the current button and menu placement is barely usable on a tablet, and the edge-swipe left gesture conflicts with the slide over gesture of iOS. Also, no cross device sync implemented at the moment... So, lots of work ahead, but this is high on my priority list! Stay tuned.

      1 point
  • Gonçalo MoraisGonçalo Morais, 33 minutes ago

    Great idea! Can’t wait to see an Android version of this with offline abilities…!

    1 point
    • , a minute ago

      As I'm working alone on this, and generally more attracted to the iOS ecosystem, an Android version is very unlikely to come any time soon. Thanks anyway!

      0 points
  • Thiago DuarteThiago Duarte, 10 hours ago

    Great job! I've already started using, after a couple weeks I'll make sure to write a review on the App Store.

    1 point
  • Suganth SSuganth S, 3 days ago

    Such an elegant app! Especially the onboarding and the interaction to go to the next article.

    I feel like it's a reader designed for stories generation :)

    1 point
    • , 3 days ago

      Being the 4th iteration of the onboarding, you have no idea how happy I am to read your feedback :) Thank you so much!

      0 points
      • Suganth SSuganth S, 2 days ago

        It’s super hard to get the onboarding right and huge kudos for iterating it to get it perfect instead of just forgetting and adding features.

        I just replaced my safari read later with your app and I’m loving it. How long did the whole development take for you?

        1 point
        • , 2 days ago

          Super proud to have found a place on someone's home screen! :)

          The first commit was done around 2 years and half ago, as a very early prototype of something closer to an actual web browser, with the queue metaphor already there. Swipe left → Close the tab → Open the next one.

          The big secret is I'm still using it today as my mobile web browser, with a special version where swiping right adds a new page at the top of the queue with a search engine and my bookmarks. And from there I can browse anywhere.

          Anyway, back then I was also teaching myself iOS development, and overall it's a fairly small app code wise. Figuring out the interaction design I was ok with took me hundreds of iterations though, with long periods where I was just stuck and no progress was made.

          1 point
          • Suganth SSuganth S, 1 day ago

            Coincidentally I'm teaching myself iOS development now. So this whole thing is inspirational to me! Thank you.

            I would love to see the video of the web browser if it's available. Definitely feels like it has potential.

            1 point
            • , 1 day ago

              I'll shout you an email, but visually it looks exactly the same, except that it shows a static web page of mine with links to my bookmarks. And from there I can also open Google to look up a specific site. Very rough around the edges at the moment.

              I still recall my friends thinking I had dementia as I was telling them I was working on "a browser with no tabs," and recommending me to start as a reading app first and build up from there. I'm not too sure yet how to design and market it as a mobile browser replacement.

              0 points
              • Suganth SSuganth S, 1 day ago

                That would be super sweet! thank you. heysuganth[at]gmail.com.

                There are couple of browser concepts right now in the App Store now, featuring gesture based and tab less design. Not sure how much it would take someone to replace their safari/chrome, but definitely your friends made you ship the right product first!

                I don't like to send feature requests, because it'll be super biased on my side, but a browser extension would be dope :D

                1 point
                • , 1 day ago

                  Browser extensions are next on my list, even though this is going to take me quite some time.

                  Always happy to hear feature requests, given how biased I am myself :)

                  0 points
  • Zachary Breakstone, 13 hours ago

    This is INCREDIBLE! I've had similar issues with Picket/Instapaper/Safari/Etc. in the past, and this is exactly what I've been looking for. Like the other comments say, the UX is super well done. It jumps you in and gets you started right away, and keeps you focused on the task. Thanks so much for this!

    1 point
    • , 1 minute ago

      My pleasure Zachary, thanks for such a nice feedback! And please shout me an email or ping me anytime on Twitter if you have any suggestion

      0 points
  • Florian GrauFlorian Grau, 8 hours ago

    Congrats to the launch. As someone, who declared Pocket bankruptcy once, started another account and now AGAIN has thousands of articles in there, your idea and implementation is genius. Btw: I find the self destruction of older articles a great idea. Or maybe a hard limit and when adding new stuff, older articles are pushed out of the queue?

    Also I agree with the others, the onboarding is really well done. Though I still had problems and as you obviously care very much about the little things I thought I'd share my experience:

    1) A page indicator tells me I can swipe on the content above (or sometimes below). It is no progress indicator. So I was a little confused when I instantly started swiping on the first screen, but nothing happened till I understood I need to tap the button.

    2) I was confused after enabling ReadingQueue in the share sheet. Like ... what do I have to do now. Cancel? I read the instructions after "3.", but still wasn't able to grasp it. Obviously, for my brain to add a page in an onboarding process to a reading queue made so little sense, that I didn't understand the instruction. But maybe, that's only a power user's issue, who is too accustomed to the share sheet and knows how it works and what it generally does.

    1 point
    • , 2 minutes ago

      First, thanks a ton Florian for writing all these nice words and advises!

      I'm having so internal struggles on what kind of limitations to set, whether they should be opt-in, default, or mandatory. Getting that kind of user feedback is helping me so much.

      I like the hard limit too. Eventually I'd like to set some maximum reading time budget. Eg. you set your queue can not excess 5 hours of cumulative reading time, or another number based on how long you're using the app every week. Then the user would need some kind of new screen to review every page of the queue (with a screenshot preview and some basic metadata?), and choose which ones to remove to regain some budget back to add new articles.

      1. 100% agree, it was making me cringe when I added it at the last minute. Will redesign into something that looks like a proper progress indicator.
      2. I suspect you bumped into that stupid bug that went through 1.1, and should be hopefully fixed with 1.1.2. If you delete the app and reinstall it, you should see the third and last screen of the onboarding. Just make sure your queue is empty first because it won't be saved after the app is deleted. Please let me know if you have the opportunity to replay it.
      0 points
  • Nicolas D, 15 hours ago

    I've tried the app and UX is extremely smooth! Really love the concept. It hits close to home because my Pocket list has been rotting for years and my Safari Reading List is slowly turning into a similar mess...

    Are you planning to make Safari and Chrome extensions for this? I'd love to add pages from my desktop during the day and read them during commute.

    Either way, thanks for this!

    1 point
    • , 7 hours ago

      Thanks Nicolas! Always feels great I was not alone struggling with that issue. Yes, I’ve just started working on extensions for desktop browsers. I really need them myself too :)

      1 point