Tech tip: Instapaper

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Save me some time Mary, am I someone who might like Instapaper?

You might like Instapaper if you read web content a lot, and you have an ebook reading device. These include iPhones, iPads, Android devices, other smartphone and tablets, and Kindles, Nooks, Kibos and other dedicated ebook readers. It might also be useful to some people with ebook reading software on their computer.

I’ve already heard of Instapaper, so there!

I have nothing left to teach you. (Except the Instaright plugin, Instaright for Firefox, Instaright for Chrome, which is a nice way of bookmarking pages for Instapaper.) Have an early mark.

I hadn’t heard of Instapaper, but, OK, with you so far, what is Instapaper?

Instapaper is a web application that turns web pages into an ebook for you. Let me describe this in more detail, since I didn’t get it for a while myself.

Scenario: You are surfing the web or going through your RSS reader. You come across something that looks interesting. But it’s so long. Like, actual paragraphs. Multiple ones. You’re not in your comfy chair, or your code is done compiling, or your child wants a hug. Paragraphs, who has time for that? You skip it.

With Instapaper, instead of skipping it, you bookmark the page in their application (somewhat like creating a delicious bookmark or submitting something to the carnival except with only a URL to put in), it goes to the page, downloads it, strips out what it considers uninteresting stuff (ads, almost all pictures, blog comments). At some later point, you go to Instapaper and download your Instapaper for the day, which contains all of the articles you bookmarked in a format your ereader displays nicely. That is, it lets you read stuff in a consistently formatted way at a time when you are ready to read whole paragraphs. I usually read mine on the train.

People with dedicated ereaders download a file to their reader (it can email the Kindle, but I’ve found that service buggy). There’s an official iPhone/iOS app and a lot of unofficial Android apps (Quora has a list of Android apps).

I use it mostly to read blog posts, but fanfic readers like it a lot too.

Is it free?

Yes, with an optional $1 a month subscription to support the developer. At the moment I think subscriptions do not have extra features.

The iOS app costs money, some of the Android apps are free.

OK, I’m convinced. Anything else?

You can sign up at I find the Instaright plugin (Instaright for Firefox, Instaright for Chrome) really useful, especially the addition of “Instapaper it!” to the right-click menu so that I don’t even have to go to a page to put it in my instapaper.

Is this a paid ad spot or what?

No. I just like Instapaper and am writing this in a slightly annoying tone.

Oh yeah, prove it. Does this Instapaper thing have any downsides?

Several. Ones I have noticed:

  1. As I said, the function that is supposed to email my Kindle an Instapaper automatically has almost never worked.
  2. Its tendency to strip images is pretty absolute (I’m not sure it even leaves the alt tag text in), so usually you can’t use it for anything where images are important to the content. It’s also not good for any blog entry where the comments are of interest to you, as it strips those.
  3. If a story crosses multiple pages, you will have to Instapaper each one of them. (You get pretty adept at finding the “Print version” or “Single page” links, and instapapering those instead, but not all sites provide them.)
  4. It’s fairly good at identifying the important part of webpages, but it does occasionally get it wrong (I’d say one time in a few hundred).

Hat tip to Skud, whose Three life-changing technologies post introduced me to Instapaper.